The politics of a massacre

Forty-eight hours after South African police killed 34 striking miners last Thursday, Julius Malema showed up at the Lonmin platinum mine north of Johannesburg to assign the blame.

Forty-eight hours after South African police killed 34 striking miners last Thursday, Julius Malema showed up at the Lonmin platinum mine north of Johannesburg to assign the blame.

“President Zuma said to the police they must act with maximum force,” Malema told a crowd of thousands of miners. “He presided over the murder of our people and therefore he must step down. … From today, when you are asked ‘Who is your president?’ you must say ‘I don’t have a president’.”

President Jacob Zuma was in Mozambique when the slaughter happened, and is unlikely to have given the police instructions on dealing with a local strike. But professional demagogues don’t have to worry about the details, and Malema was fundamentally right in what he said next.

“Zuma doesn’t care about the mineworkers, he came here last night and met with whites,” Malema said. “It’s not the white British (mine-owners) who were killed. It was you.”

And in a final slap at the governing African National Congress (from which he was recently expelled): “They only come to you when it’s time for elections. Once you put that cross, they disappear.”

Julius Malema fills the same role in today’s South Africa that Winnie Mandela did in the dying days of apartheid in the early 1990s: the radical demagogue who uses violent, often anti-white invective to articulate the rage of the impoverished black majority.

This terrifies South Africans who have something to lose, black and white alike.

Malema preaches hatred of the rich and hints at social revolution.

The fact that he has become mysteriously rich himself at the age of 31, although his only jobs were as an official of the ANC Youth League, doesn’t bother his millions of admirers at all. They just want to see a real redistribution of the country’s wealth in their favour, and they think Malema is their best bet.

They are probably wrong. Malema is ruthless and cunning enough to have a chance at winning power some time towards the end of this decade, when the ANC’s political near-monopoly finally collapses. But he is not skilled enough, and perhaps not even clever enough, to push through that sort of redistribution without destroying South Africa’s industrial economy in the process.

Nevertheless, many of the poor feel they have nowhere else to turn.

It is now 18 years since the fall of apartheid, and a substantial class of prosperous middle-class blacks has emerged (together with a small group of very rich people with close links to the ANC).

However, the poor majority remain desperately poor, and they no longer trust the ANC to bring positive change in their lives. They are starting to defect politically, and the main battle is being fought on the territory of the trade unions.

Mining is South Africa’s biggest industry, and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is the country’s biggest union. It is closely tied to the ANC, but many believe that it is also in bed with the bosses. Cyril Ramaphosa (who chaired the ANC’s disciplinary appeals committee that expelled Malema from the ANC early this year) was the founder of the NUM 30 years ago, but now he is on Lonmin’s board.

The Lonmin strike is actually a turf war. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (ACMU), a new, radical union, has been stealing the members of the National Union of Mineworkers, including 3,000 or 4,000 of the 26,000 men working in Lonmin’s platinum mine. ACMU promised to triple the workers’ wages, and the violence began when it tried to stop NUM members from going to work.

Ten people were killed in clashes between the two unions in mid-August, including two police who were hacked to death with pangas (machetes).

So the police were understandably nervous last week when they faced an angry mob of about 3,000 workers armed with pangas, spears and clubs.

Unleashing a torrent of automatic fire that killed 34 strikers and wounded 78 was an act of gross indiscipline, but frightened men, even if they have far better weapons, will not always respond in a measured and disciplined way when they are under attack. The reflex, unfortunately, is to hold the trigger down and spray the threat with bullets.

Nobody wanted this tragedy to occur, and it is unlikely to happen again in the same way. Jacob Zuma will still probably be re-elected as the leader of the ANC in December and go on to a second term as president. There will be a commission of inquiry, and judges will reach conclusions and make recommendations.

But the main political beneficiaries of the incident are the forces that are trying to loosen the grip of the ANC’s old guard on the unions and the country.

It has been a very auspicious occasion for Julius Malema, who is trying to position himself as the only real alternative to Zuma and the gang. Some time later in the decade, the Lonmin massacre may come to be seen as a turning point in South Africa’s history. Or not, because history does not run on rails.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Just Posted

Shanna Lydiard is upset to have had mail delivery cut off last month to her West Park street because of water main reconstruction. Delivery is to resume by May 19 at the latest, according to the City of Red Deer. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Red Deer woman frustrated by mail delivery suspension due to construction

Shanna Lydiard said residents shouldn’t have to drive across the city for their mail

Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen received his COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday at Jackson’s Pharmacy in Innisfail. (Devin Creeshen Twitter photo)
COVID-19: Most local MLAs have received their first vaccine shot

Alberta’s NDP is encouraging all MLAs to get vaccinated and publicly promote… Continue reading

Alberta continues to wrestle with high COVID-19 case numbers. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer up to 858 active cases of COVID-19

Province reports additional 1,799 cases of the virus

Bo's Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening.
(Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

The Bowden Institution medium security facility near Bowden has 15 active COVID-19 cases. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)
15 active COVID-19 cases at Bowden prison

Bowden Institution has had 36 positive cases this year with 21 recovered and no deaths

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer and several members of city council helped kick off the spring Green Deer cleanup campaign on Wednesday. Veer said city workers do their best to keep the city looking good, but need volunteer help to get rid of litter that has blown into bushes onto road sides over the winter. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)
Red Deer city councillors launch spring Green Deer campaign

Volunteers are needed to keep the city looking good

Ottawa Senators centre Josh Norris, right, celebrates his game-winning overtime goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs with left wing Brady Tkachuk Wednesday May 12, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Norris scored winner, Senators beat Maple Leafs 4-3 in Andersen’s return from injury

Norris scored winner, Senators beat Maple Leafs 4-3 in Andersen’s return from injury

Rafael Nadal, of Spain, holds up the trophy after beating Daniil Medvedev, of Russia, in the final at the Rogers Cup tennis tournament, in Montreal on Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Tennis Canada could move top tournaments to US if Toronto, Montreal plan not approved

Tennis Canada could move top tournaments to US if Toronto, Montreal plan not approved

Philadelphia Flyers' Travis Sanheim (6) and Brian Elliott (37) celebrate with teammates after the Flyers won an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Monday, May 10, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Puck luck? Hockey’s secrecy makes betting on NHL a gamble

Puck luck? Hockey’s secrecy makes betting on NHL a gamble

FILE - John Davidson, left, president of the New York Rangers, and Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton pose at a news conference in New York, in this Wednesday, May 22, 2019, file photo. The New York Rangers abruptly fired president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 with three games left in the season. Chris Drury was named president and GM. He previously served as associate GM under Davidson and Gorton. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
New York Rangers fire coach Dave Quinn, 3 assistants

New York Rangers fire coach Dave Quinn, 3 assistants

Denis Shapovalov, of Canada, returns a shot from Ilya Ivashka, of Belarus, during the Miami Open tennis tournament, Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Wilfredo Lee
Canadian Denis Shapovalov books meeting with Nadal in third round of Italian Open

Canadian Denis Shapovalov books meeting with Nadal in third round of Italian Open

United States goalie Alex Cavallini (33) deflects Canada's Marie Philip Poulin (29) shot during the first period in the women's 3-on-3 game, part of the NHL hockey All-Star weekend, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, in St. Louis. Hockey Canada's roster of players invited to try out for the 2022 Olympic women's hockey team indicates the squad will be experienced up front and less so on the back end. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeff Roberson
Hockey Canada announces players invited to try out for women’s Olympic team

Hockey Canada announces players invited to try out for women’s Olympic team

Atlanta Braves pitcher Max Fried works against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Hernández 2 HRs as Ryu, Blue Jays improve to 5-0 vs Braves

Hernández 2 HRs as Ryu, Blue Jays improve to 5-0 vs Braves

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell (36) makes a save as Maple Leafs defenceman TJ Brodie (78) and Montreal Canadiens forward Tyler Toffoli (73) look for the rebound during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Saturday, May 8, 2021. The Leafs and the Canadiens will meet in the playoffs for the first time in 42 years when the 2020-21 NHL post-season gets underway.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Leafs, Habs will face off in long-awaited playoff rematch, Oilers will face Jets

Leafs, Habs will face off in long-awaited playoff rematch, Oilers will face Jets

Most Read