Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Marikana Moment and the Post-apartheid state: migrant-worker subjectivity and state violence

UHURU (UNIT FOR THE HUMANITIES AT RHODES UNIVERSITY) invites you to attend the following one-day colloquium:

The Marikana Moment and the Post-apartheid state: migrant-worker subjectivity and state violence

Where: Faculty of Humanities Seminar Room, Rhodes University

When: 17th April 2014

Time: 08h30 to 17h30

The massacre of 32 migrant workers at the Marikana mine in August 2012 has raised and continues to raise important questions of an analytical and political kind in South Africa.   The reason is arguably because both the miners and the state did not react according to theoretically expected ways. The workers insisted on representing themselves and seemed to reject trade union representation while the state did not pursue its response through corporatist structures, something a liberal democratic state would be expected to do, but rather reacted with intense violence.

Yet the dominant accounts see the Marikana moment either as a criminal act or as a simple effect of the conflictual relations between labour and capital.   But other questions also arise due to the displacement of migrant labour from official discourse and not least because the idea of ‘migrant labour’ has been replaced in state discourse by other terms such as ‘illegal immigrant’.  In other words whereas Harold Wolpe and others had seen the ‘migrant labour system’ as the social foundation of the apartheid state, with the legal demise of apartheid, migrant labour although still extant has disappeared from dominant nationalist discourse today.   The ideological context is one for which migrants who come to the city whether from rural areas or from abroad tend to be seen as ‘foreigners’ or ‘outsiders’, as burdens on society not as builders of industry.  It should be recalled that the majority of workers at Marikana (especially the RDOs) were migrants from the Eastern Cape and also included some from the traditional ‘periphery’ of the South African economy.

A number of questions arise therefore: How is the subjectivity of the striking miners to be understood?  Were they simply strikers for a higher wage or were they rebellious workers threatening state power?  Did they threaten only the NUM or traditional unionism as such? Were they acting on their own volition or were they being manipulated by agitators and how did this question inform state thinking?  How far were poverty and living conditions causes of the strike? What were the consequences of this moment for worker organisations in trade unions?  What was the role of migrancy in shaping workers’ subjectivities?  Is the rural still present in the urban (to paraphrase Mahmood Mamdani)?  How are we to understand the role of women and community members in the strike?

On the side of the state a number of questions also arise which cannot simply be reduced to its representing the interests of capital.  It is in fact extraordinary to think that it has become possible for a state founded on liberal-democratic norms to react so brutally to a workers’ strike.  What does the state action tell us if anything regarding the character of South African democracy?  Was the deployment of violence in this instance an accidental occurrence or the effect of a systemic problem?  Is there any connection between this instance of violence and other forms of violence (such as xenophobic violence or police violent reactions to Abahlali baseMjondolo or to community protests) in the country?  Are we creating a ‘culture of violence’ in South Africa? Do apartheid and colonial thinking still exercise effects on state power? Does the migrant labour system still influence the character and subjectivity of the post-apartheid state?

Full papers will be presented which will address these questions and others.

Presenters include:

Ms Sarah Bruchhausen (Rhodes)

Dr Judith Hayem (Université de Lille)

Ms Camalita Naicker (Rhodes)

Prof Michael Neocosmos (Rhodes)

Prof Suren Pillay (UWC)

Dr Paul Stewart (Wits)

Further information: