Friday, August 24, 2012

post-apartheid capitalism

In the shadow of Lonmin's Marikana mine in South Africa ramshackle settlements cluster around this mine operated by the world no. 3 platinum producer and around others in the North West Province, the world's prime platinum mining region. The mine and its squalid settlement was the scene of labour violence last week which killed 40 miners, two police and two security guards, the deadliest security incident in South Africa since the end of white minority rule 18 years ago.

"This is no way to live or grow children. Fifty people share one toilet. We don't have water,"
said a woman who identified herself as Pinky, the wife of a striking rock drill operator at Marikana who shares a one-room tin box with her husband and two children.

"You work so hard, for so little. You might as well be dead," said a 23-year-old Lonmin worker

A report this week by the Bench Marks Foundation, a church-linked organisation that monitors corporate responsibility, found that living conditions for South Africa's black miners on the platinum belt were the worst in the country. "The conditions in the township constructed by Lonmin are appalling. There are broken down drainage systems spilling directly into the river at three different points," Bench Marks Foundation executive director John Capel said, adding this situation had been left unattended for the last five years.

Nelson Mandela's ANC promised a better life for all when it took power with the end of apartheid in 1994. But despite being Africa's largest economy income disparity and unemployment have mushroomed while chronic joblessness has helped entrench a massive underclass. These circumstances, combined with ballooning living costs and a demand for better pay, led to the violent strike by Marikana workers which culminated in the police shooting of 34 miners on Thursday. They died in a hail of gunfire.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mali's misfortune

Mali is in the grip of a food crisis, yet fields either side of the road heading north from the capital, Bamako, are lush with newly grown crops of maize, millet and okra. Mango trees abound, alongside baobabs, valued for their fruit pulp, which makes a porridge high in vitamin C, as well as karite trees – called shea in English – which bear nuts providing cooking oil. Roadside stalls boast bananas, guavas and aubergines, while fisherman can be seen at work on the waters of the River Niger or on one of its major tributaries, the Bani.

Lack of rains last year across the Sahel, that part of West Africa lying just south of the Sahara, resulted in poor harvests, which sparked higher prices for staples such as millet. This left some 19 million people across the region dependent on food aid. The situation was already perilous when the rains failed. A food crisis in 2010 had left more than 10 million already facing shortages. In Mali, some 4.6 million people are in need.

Christian Aid's country manager, Yacouba Kone, says it is too early to tell whether this year's rains will produce a harvest plentiful enough to fill the grain stores. "The fields may look as if they are full of food – the rains so far this year have been good – but the harvest is still months away, and, meanwhile, the granaries are bare, and people are struggling," he said. "A 100kg sack of rice last year cost 30,000 West African francs. Now the price is 50,000. Poverty here is entrenched and only a few can afford the fruit and vegetables you see for sale..."

. At one village, Goroulie, flash floods destroyed a number of homes and food stores. The 63-year-old village chief, Antongoule Guindo, who in better times farms millet and soya bean, said: "Physically, we are alive, but inside we are dead. The children go to sleep hungry."

We told you so

 A massacre by South African police left 34 striking workers dead and 78 wounded. A T-shirt worn by a protest rally organiser seemed to offer a explanation, stating: "Fuck capitalism.". It was the promise of a militant union that sparked violence at Marikana, where the ANC-aligned National Union of Mineworkers has been losing support. The 360,000-member National Union of Mineworkers leader, Cyril Ramaphosa sits on the board of Lonmin, which owns the platinium mine where the shootings occurred. The NUM has lost all credibility. Its already well-paid secretary, Baleni, was awarded a salary increase of more than 40% last year and his total salary package is just more than R105 000 a month.The union has accepted wage settlements that tied workers into years of meagre increases. At the Lonmin mines its membership has declined from 66% of workers to 49%. "Lonmin treat us like dogs," said Thembelani Khonto. "When you're underground, it's like you're a slave and they don't know you. But on the surface people who don't do anything in offices are earning more than us."

Dissident and expelled union activists started a new union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. The AMCU placed a pay demand for rock drillers (who are the core of this strike and do the hardest work underground). The union's support in the Lonmin mines shot up to 19% by last month, and it embarked on an illegal strike to force its pay demand. The AMCU is also organising among poor workers and their shack settlement communities, which have become no-go zones for police. For these settlements, this is a strike against the state and the haves, not just a union matter.

Socialist Banner in many previous posts have exposed the ANC of continuing the apartheid-era exploitation of the working class and sadly concludes that the latest bloody episode in South Africa's class war vindicates our position.  The Sowetan newspaper in an editorial also questioned what has changed since 1994. "It has happened in this country before where the apartheid regime treated black people like objects. It is continuing in a different guise now."

While workers bleed the capitalists response is predictable. World platinum prices rise and Lonmin shares slump