Marikana and the false “New Dawn”

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Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the Marikana massacre, a day in which 34 striking miners were gunned down by police. It was a day which was not supposed to happen in post-apartheid South Africa. After all, we have a public holiday – Human Rights Day – on 21 March to mark the day of the Sharpeville massacre, when 69 people protesting against the pass laws were killed by police. Such commemorative days are supposed to remind us of the past atrocities in contravention of human rights, so that we do not repeat them in the future.

And yet, the Marikana massacre stands as monument to how little we have learned from history, with the only difference now being that the atrocities are being committed by black politicians and by black policemen.

Then, as if to affirm the post-apartheid depravity of those who now govern us, and as if the Marikana massacre is not a sufficient blot on their commitment to improve the lives of the majority of the people, ANC politicians and bureaucrats in Gauteng commit heinous acts against mentally unhealthy patients, resulting in the premature deaths of 144 people. The MEC responsible for “the greatest human rights violation in contemporary South Africa”, as some have labelled it, is not prosecuted, but is instead voted back onto the provincial leadership of the ANC! The only thing we have learned is that black lives matter as little today as they did under the apartheid regime.

Just three months before the Marikana massacre, the country was embroiled in a storm created by an artwork, The spear, which depicted then President Zuma in a Lenin-like pose with his genitals exposed. As part of an exhibition, Hail to the thief 2, this painting was a metaphor for the rape of the public purse by a venal, thieving president.

The artist – Brett Murray – was severely criticised and labelled a racist, even encountering death threats, with political supporters of Zuma marching on the gallery, demanding that the work be removed from the exhibition. One of the arguments hurled at Murray and the painting was that it was yet another abuse of black bodies by a white man. Yet, only a few months later, black bodies were mowed down by black policemen, with Cyril Ramaphosa, who today serves as the president of the country, having been a director of the company that owned the mine and whose employees were shot and killed. The pass laws against which the Sharpeville protestors voiced their opposition were part of the migrant labour system that tore apart black families, the same system that still prevailed at the mine where the Marikana massacre took place. Just over two decades earlier, Ramaphosa had been the secretary general of the country’s largest union that organised mineworkers.

Not long after Murray’s painting came to the attention of the public, the first exposés of Nkandla began to take place, with ANC politicians vehemently defending the expenditure; yet we all now know that this was nothing less than the rape of the public purse for the benefit of one person, just as Murray’s painting had graphically depicted.

The depravity and hypocrisy of the National Party government and its ministers are now being further exposed through the book Bird Island.

But the mass looting of the state’s resources, the killing of black people by state actors and the ongoing violations of the fundamental human rights of the majority by state agencies show that moral depravity, hypocrisy and sheer disregard for the lives of its black citizens are not the sole preserve of white governments or white state and non-state actors.

That we have come to this. So quickly. And on such a depressingly large scale! It is utterly shameful.

To end, a poem I wrote a few years ago to mark an anniversary of the Marikana massacre.

An August Day

Lest we forget the history of
our present birth
or heroes of struggles past
or youth crucified
or women sacrificed
to the gods of race

Those dressed in liberator T-shirts
rewrote children’s books
rechristened streets
replaced old monuments cast in divisive hue and
revised our year with days to

Youth Day
Women’s Day
Human Rights Day

Then on one foul August day
state-sponsored bullets rained
on rock-driller strikers
and new widows made
but seven days after marking
you-have-struck-a-rock history

That same day
young children and their
siblings not-yet-born were
rendered half-orphans
to face their already uncertain youth

On that day
Sharpeville’s disbelieving ghosts
slowly rolled out a carpet red
with stolen blood
for a reluctant welcome to their
five-decade-young cousins
freshly dispatched
from their right to life
by those who once had promised
a better
longer life

The erstwhile people’s heroes
their “liberator” T-shirts
now hidden
under Chinese imports
now stretched
over expanded girths
now faint
with struggle memories wiped ever more distant
by public purse comforts
cleared their throats
as if their Judas conscience

“People, our people
this is not a time for blame
we hear your cries
we feel your hurt
we see your pain
and so we give you …
a commission”

Youth Day
Women’s Day
Human Rights Day
now stain our calendar
with hollowed history
as monuments
a good story to tell

Buro: NB
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