South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma today addressed miners at the Marikana platinum site, less than a week after some 34 strikers were shot dead and 78 injured by police.
The president said it would “never be our policy to harm those we represent,” but the violence is highlighting the growing gulf between the ruling African National Congress and its supporters.
The incident also demonstrates that the ruling Tripartite Alliance, comprising the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Communist party, can no longer claim to be representative of the majority’s aspirations, say analysts.
“The key point to grasp about the Marikana shootings (we’re not allowed to call them a massacre because that makes them sound like the bad old days of Sharpeville) is that the National Union of Mineworkers, South Africa’s biggest union, is in apparently terminal decline and has been losing control of one pit after another to its new rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which has no political affiliations,” writes RW Johnson, a former director of the Johannesburg-based Helen Suzman Foundation.
“What is particularly worrying here is that the miners are bypassing the National Union of Mineworkers suggesting a total lack of trust in the traditional mining union setup,” wrote Lawrence Williams of the Mineweb blog.
“The decline of the NUM threatens the whole structure of ANC power,” Johnson contends. “The NUM is the spinal cord of the ANC alliance. Its leaders are always Communist Party members, it has provided the last three secretaries-general of the ANC in succession, and it is the dominant presence in the labour federation, COSATU. “
An estimated 2,872,000 people – some 5 per cent of population – participated in protests against a lack of services that prompted a police response in 2008/2009, writes Martin Plaut, co- author with Paul Holden of Who Rules South Africa?
So why this anger and frustration? After all, the African National Congress came to power 18 years ago on a tide of popular support and continues to win elections with impressive majorities. What this masks is the gradual erosion of the belief of many in the ability of the government to deliver its promises. For example, earlier this year it was revealed that in one province textbooks had been dumped by the roadside while pupils were left without school books for six months.
“In other democracies the alienation felt by poor communities across South Africa might have resulted in citizens banding together,” but the Tripartite Alliance has formed a largely unresponsive and self-serving “permanent coalition,” says Plaut, co-author of Power! Black workers, their unions and the struggle for freedom in South Africa:
In the fight against apartheid the alliance was vital. Today it has resulted in a form of corporatism, in which senior trade unionists and communists are drawn into government – and business. The grassroots’ concerns have receded in their priorities as they jostle for influence and opportunities.
The government should establish a high level enquiry “in order that South Africans can absolve themselves of this deep stain on the fabric of their democracy,” said IDASA, the Pretoria-based democracy institute.
The think-tank echoed growing concerns about activist groups’ recourse to political violence.
“For some time now an increasing number of South Africans have begun to turn to violence too easily whether they are in political formations, unions, the public service or merely citizens,” it cautioned. “This incident should be a lesson in the danger of this approach.”
“The ANC has created its own culture of violence and impunity. It allows all manner of violent behaviour within its own ranks. The assassination of ANC leaders by their rivals within the party has become a commonplace,” says Afrikaner historian Hermann Giliomee.
Many leading members of the ANC are preoccupied with their business interests, notes Plaut:
The policy of Black Economic Empowerment has produced a narrow elite, who have little daily contact with the realities of life for their fellow citizens. Senior ANC officials, politicians and ministers now see holding public office as no bar to owning outside interests. In August 2011, it was reported that about three-quarters of the cabinet had financial interests outside their main occupations. So did 59 per cent of the country’s 400 members of parliament. Mr Zuma has been criticised for allowing his family to become so overtly involved in business.
Reuel Khoza, the black head of Nedbank, has criticised South Africa’s “strange breed of leaders” who are completely incapable of managing a modern state, writes Johnson, a South Africa correspondent for the London Sunday Times:
There is a strong popular sense that Zuma’s South Africa is effectively leaderless. Zuma is widely viewed as a do-nothing President, anxious only to keep his balance among the ANC factions and more interested in his harem of wives and accumulating vast wealth for his family. When Trevor Manuel, the Planning Minister, introduced his Plan to Parliament last week he warned that if it was not forcefully implemented the country “could slide backwards”, which many took to mean that he thought that was already happening. When an Opposition leader stood up and said “This is a fine Plan but who exactly is going to implement it?” there was simply a roar of laughter from the whole assembly.
The quality of South African democracy has also been adversely impacted by civil society’s reluctance to criticize or campaign against the ANC government, some observers suggest.
Many NGOs that were such aggressively effective “watchdogs” under apartheid have become “lapdogs” under the ANC, Johnson writes in South Africa’s Brave New World: The Beloved Country Since the End of Apartheid.
“South Africa still has a vocal opposition, an independent judiciary and a robust media,” notes Plaut:
The question is whether these can ensure citizens have their concerns addressed, without their having to resort to more confrontations with the police. The country has had just one change of government in 60 years; for all the stumbles of the ANC, there is scant prospect of one in the near future.
It is likely that the entire Marikana workforce will be replaced a new NUM-disciplined cohorts, says Johnson…
But that won’t save the ANC. In exile, the ANC could surmount any crisis merely by iron discipline. In 1968 they supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the line was enforced and that was that. But those days are gone and such tactics will not contain the shockwaves from the massacre at Marikana. Ultimately, it is bad news for Zuma, as it will strengthen the views of those in the ANC who feel he is a hopelessly incompetent blunderer – but he may still have the votes to prevail.
The decay of the ANC alliance is now far advanced and irreversible. South Africa is anyway a very difficult country to govern, and as the ANC gradually falls apart the process is likely to be a violent one.