Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Marikana Massacre: What Would Steve Biko have Said and Done?


- Aubrey Mokoape, St. Philip's Anglican Church, Fingo Village, Grahamstown, 19 September 2012 

Comrade Programme Director, comrades from the Black Consciousness Party, various formations of the BCM, comrades from the Unemployed People’s Movement and other Social Movements, comrades from the Clergy and the entire religious community, comrades from community organizations and civic bodies, comrades from the academia and the entire academic community, citizens of Grahamstown and compatriots from near and far, all fellow fighters in the fight for a truly human egalitarian society I greet you all in the name of our great beloved leader, brother, revolutionary Steve Bantu Biko and that of our fallen victims of the Marikana Massacre. I greet you in the name of Steve Biko the visionary, the intellectual, the revolutionary socialist, the activist, the anti-racist. I greet you in the name of the Socialist Azanian Republic for which Steve Biko died.


We meet here today as we do every year at the shrine of Steve Biko to commemorate him, to remember his inspirational leadership, his martyrdom on our behalf and draw solace and inspiration. This is always a day of mixed emotions. On one hand it evokes immense sadness when we contemplate our loss, especially now when our country is drafting rudderless in a sea of violence, avarice and ignorance. We are also deeply pained by the painful barbarity of his murder and we cannot and must not forget on the other hand, that this is a day of hope and optimism. That such a young man could have such hope and courage to shoulder the aspirations of a forlorn nation gives us hope. As he said “IT IS BETTER TO DIE FOR AN IDEA THAT WILL LIVE THAN LIVE FOR AN IDEA THAT WILL DIE.”

It is in that spirit that we come here: to imbibe, to nourish, to refresh and to recommit to that idea so that indeed it will be immortalised. The idea in his words, of “TOTAL LIBERATION”. Mark, total liberation, not merely the removal of apartheid. But if for a moment we had been lulled into slumber or beguiled into complacency by the sweet sounding words like new South Africa and miracle constitution or Rainbow Nation, it is just as well to be jolted back into reality by the guns of Marikana.

The Marikana Massacre is the most egregious illustration of what happens when the interests of the state clash with the interests of the people. The state took the side of Lonmin and the new black induna class and callously mowed down poor black workers who were merely asking for a living wage. But for the colour of the indunas, it is the same state that murdered black people at Sharpeville, Langa, Bisho and countless other places. It is a black government today that dispatched police to mercilessly massacre black workers who voted it into power. It sounds ridiculously ironic but maybe it isn’t.
That’s why we ask what would Steve Biko have said and done about the guns of Marikana? But before we ask Steve the question let’s find out who he was. A lot of things have been said and written about Biko, some right and others wrong. I had the privilege to live with him and to fight politically and ultimately collaborated with him in the evolution of the Black Consciousness philosophy. When he joined me in 1966 at medical school I was already in second year and older than him and was already a political veteran having been sentenced to three years for my involvement at Sharpeville in 1960. Steve was not awed by all of this and engaged me politically from the onset.

Steve was a consummate revolutionary. For a start he was a very easy and casual man, at ease with everyone. Even as he carved his place in history there was nothing messianic in his demeanour. He had an abiding love for people and this is what inspired him. He was a socialist but he expressed his socialist beliefs in simple everyman’s language. He was a humanist, a scientist and a philosopher. He was an activist who always listened and sought to persuade. Underlying all these many qualities was a steely determination and a sense of mission. He was a natural leader around whom people congregated easily. I personally found no difficulty in deferring to him although I was theoretically his senior.
The last time I saw him was during his testimony in our case in Pretoria. I tried very hard to persuade him to go into exile but he flatly refused. He said he could not abandon our people alone in their hour of need. Earlier he had already committed class suicide when he spurned the prospect of becoming a medical doctor and instead chose the struggle. In his own words “LEADERSHIP AND SECURITY ARE BASICALLY INCOMPATIBLE, A STRUGGLE WITHOUT CASUALTIES IS NO STRUGGLE”. The question before us is: what would Steve have said and done about the Marikana Massacre?

I believe the first thing he would say would be shocking and blood curdling as the Marikana massacre is, it has been predictable. If we had paid careful heed towards what’s been happening around us and media reports we would have seen a series of mini Marikanas happening all over the country. There have been dry runs for over ten years now with protests occurring with increased frequency and intensity and police pitted against the people with a variety of weapons. The most dramatic prelude to Marikana was the brutal murder of Andries Tatane by the police which was played out in front of all of us. If we had paid enough heed we would have noticed that the 1994 settlement had left the colonial racist capitalist socio-economic structure intact. The masses of black people were left without their land, their labour and their liberty. They were left poor, ignorant and powerless labouring on white men’s farms and mines. Steve would have told us that extending the vote to black people without restoring the land and transforming the socio-economic landscape in favour of the black majority was tantamount to legitimising apartheid.

I think he would paraphrase Aime Cesaire thus:

When I turn on my TV and see landless poor blacks toiling in the white men’s mines and farms, I know apartheid is not dead.
When I turn on my TV and see little black children walking miles on end, crossing rivers to go to mud schools, I know apartheid is not dead.
When I see poor desperate black miners being callously mowed down with heavy machine guns for simply asking for a living wage, I know apartheid is not dead.
Apartheid is alive and well in the union buildings, in parliament, in homes, in school and everywhere.”

The only difference is that it is now being overseen by a black government and a black induna class instead of Afrikaners.

Apartheid is alive and well because the 1994 so called democracy was a monumental sell out. The people’s revolution was hijacked by imperialism and local capitalist conspiring with our current black government. The vast black masses were beguiled with an avalanche of propaganda about a miracle constitution, a rainbow nation and some such new speak. Of course the masses were given the vote to vote for an absentee government which spends its time on golf courses and banqueting halls. They were given freedom of movement with nowhere to go but to squatter camps. They were given the right to education but denied books. They were given the right to form trade unions but no employment. They were given freedom of speech but no-one to talk to. Marikana was actually woven into the fabric of the new South Africa. It was always coming.
What we are seeing is an escalation of state violence against the black masses. Since the government has chosen the side of the bosses who have money against the people the question is: when and where will the next Marikana occur?

It is quite clear that this government has run out of ideas. Key sectors of social delivery like education, health, justice, welfare are in crisis. Morale among the professional classes like teachers, nurses, doctors and police is at an all time low. The working classes and the unemployed have reached the end of their tether. They are seen everyday manning barricades and throwing stones in every township and village.

On the other hand the language from the government and its allies is ominous and chilling. It is reminiscent of the language of Jimmy Kruger and P W Botha. We now regularly hear of inciters, third force, law and order and phrases like “we shall not tolerate”. This is the language of a government that is losing legitimacy and barring its teeth.

Any government that fails to deliver on its mandate to its people and is focused on self-enrichment will face increasing levels of popular resistance such as at Marikana. History has shown that such a government increasingly resorts to repression.

I believe that Steve would have urged the Black Consciousness Party and all formations of the BCM to mobilise all progressive people, the black working class, peasants, students and women to overthrow the capitalist system that is strangulating our people and replace it with a just non-exploitative socialist society. He would have reminded us of the crucial role of the BCM in the 1960’s when the struggle of the people was facing extinction. He would have told us that this is again the time for the BCM to step up and resume its historic role. In tribute to Steve Biko and the miners who fell at Marikana we commit to these goals.

In conclusion we support the miners at Marikana and elsewhere in their quest for a living wage. We also extend our sincere condolences to their families. We condemn the government for siding with the capitalists against the people and for using high handed repressive methods instead of negotiating peacefully.