Hlumelo Biko, the son of black consciousness movement leader Steve Biko, has written a book titled “The Great African Society: A Plan for a Nation Gone Astray”. In this book, he introduces the concept of one group of society “othering” another group that is not aligned to their thinking. He says the tendency to “other” people is used to marginalise people in society. “Othering” is a form of identitarian politics that focuses on the class, ideology and exclusive interests of specific groups.

As we today commemorate the 4th anniversary of the Marikana tragedy, we run the serious risk of limiting our analysis to the events that unfolded on 16 August 2012.  Such analysis would be terribly insufficient as it wouldn’t factor in the capitalist greed and corporate arrogance that led to the chain of events that unfolded from 12 – 16 August 2012. Such analysis would not reflect on the callous disregard for workers and their communities by mine owners who are driven only by the profit motive. To these captains of the mines, workers are two-legged beasts of burden who belong to the lowest rungs of society.

A comprehensive analysis would unravel the fact that the Marikana tragedy is a clear example of a situation where people were “othered”. They were perceived as a disruptive mob that was deemed unworthy to be listened to. Very few people will today admit that they were part of a discourse that expressed irritation at the irrationality of the miners’ protest. Security guards were killed, police officers lost their lives, and some of them had been hacked to death with pangas. One mineworker was hacked to death and his remains burned.

The miners, resolutely camped out on the “mountain”, became a source of national fascination.  Stories of miners using water that was laced with muti to make themselves bullet-proof were splashed across newspapers. Horrified callers on talk radio complained that the situation had gotten out of hand. They called on “someone to do something” about the situation.

Lonmin repeatedly said they would not be able to enter into any salary negotiations because the mine already has an existing two-year wage agreement with workers. Citing the Bench Marks Foundation report on the social, economic and environmental impact of platinum mining companies in the Bojanala District, Daily Maverick journalist Greg Nicolson wrote on 15 August 2012, a day before the fateful day, that unless the mining giants transformed their impact on workers and communities, they would be in for a lot more trouble. Nicolson’s words proved to be somewhat prophetic as the situation came to a head the very next day.

In a 1966 interview, Dr Martin Luther King Jr said: “I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

The loss of life, injuries and pain that came out of Marikana will forever remain an indelible blight on the history of post-apartheid South Africa.  The Marikana story is a story of unheard mineworkers, snubbed and “othered” by society. Any analysis on Marikana that discounts the role played by corporate arrogance and greed wouldn’t be complete or honest.

To fully understand the events that played themselves out on that koppie on the 16th of August, one has to be willing to dig deep and go to the root of the matter. We cannot honour the 44 people who died and many others who were injured unless we identify fully the underlying causes of dejection and resultant tensions. 

As Voltaire famously said, “to the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.” We should go beyond the obvious and leave not any stone unturned in trying to find the truth. After all, we owe truth to the 44 deceased.

By Tiyisela Mpuzana