Recurring Problems in South Africa

From the 18th until the 26th of September, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu visited the Netherlands. Tutu became world-known in the 1980s during the apartheid regime in South Africa, and as an outspoken critic of this regime, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. On the 20th of September, Tutu was invited to the Dutch television programme College Tour (see Uitzending Gemist for the whole episode – it’s fully in English) in which he not only answered general questions from interested students, but also addressed the recent events in South Africa. In particular, Tutu gave his views on the Marikana disaster, which occurred a few weeks earlier.

Mid-august, mine workers of a platinum mine in the Marikana area initiated a strike for an fast improvement of working conditions and for higher wages, demanding a pay raise to 12.500 South African rand per month – which would imply tripling their monthly salary. For several days, workers armed with machetes and wooden clubs occupied the area surrounding the mine, whilst chanting and pledging their readiness to die if their demands were not met.

Indeed, the Marikana massacre reminds us  of past atrocities that occurred during the years of the Apartheid.

On the 16th of August, the situation got out of control. Members of the South African police service opened fire on the group of strikers, leaving 34 people dead and at least 78 people wounded. Video images of the shooting can be found all over Youtube. The police claimed the action was out of self-defense, despite the video footage suggesting the strikers were running away from large clouds of tear gas.

According to The Washington Post, ‘’ the incident was the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since the Sharpeville massacre during the Apartheid era.’’ Indeed, the Marikana massacre reminds us  of past atrocities that occurred during the years of the Apartheid, such as the student-led protests of 1976 in Soweto, or the massacre in Sharpeville of 1960 just mentioned.

According to Fitch, a global rating agency, the deadly strikes at the Marikana platinum mine highlight South Africa’s structural problems. ‘’These include policy uncertainty, particularly regarding the mining sector, and lack of progress on education and labour reforms which … has resulted in insufficient growth to create the jobs required to put a dent in an unemployment rate of 25 percent. Whereas the South African president Jacob Zuma denied that the protests have significantly damaged the sentiment about investing in the country, Fitch argues that ‘’long-term failure to fix the issues would damage the country’s investment climate’’.

Amandla, a South African magazine dedicated to social justice, argues the following: ‘’Since 1994 the entire working class has fallen deeper into poverty, including sections of the white working class, as inequality has grown between the ruling class and working class as a whole. However, the black working class, due to mostly holding the lowest paid jobs and thus facing continued racism, remains both subject to exploitation and national oppression. Until this is ended, along with the capitalist system on which it is based and which it serves, true freedom and equality for both the black and white working class will not be achieved in South Africa.

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