JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA, Dec. 4 — Over 40,000 striking South African miners marched here today against hazardous working conditions, adding to pressures on the industry in a country where a miner dies nearly every day. The world’s leading producers of gold and platinum are among mines hit by the one-day walkout called by the 270,000-member National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). The workers marched on the Chamber of Mines, the industry employers’ organization that includes the leading companies — AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold, Anglo Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin.
In October, around 3,000 miners at Elandsrand were trapped almost a mile underground for more than 24 hours when the lift cage’s power cable was damaged. They were eventually rescued unharmed. Agence France-Presse quoted Thembisile Marrent, a miner at the Kloof goldmine in Mpumalnga province, saying, “We’re dying in mines but get nothing. We want change, we want to work safe. When you get accidents the boss [says] it was ‘bad luck.’ If the mistake is yours, they charge you [with disciplinary offenses] even though you’re in the hospital.” The miners carried placards with slogans including, “Mine safety is a human right,” and “Blood-dripped profit is the bosses’ luxury.”
South Africa’s mines are among the world’s deepest and most labor-intensive. But since the end of the apartheid regime working conditions still haven’t improved too much under African National Congress (ANC) rule. Mining produces 7% of the country’s gross domestic product and is the highest foreign exchange source here. The high price of precious metals has seen mine company profits soar through the roof, but the workers see little of it. As a matter of fact, the mine bosses are demanding even more productivity from the miners.
Unfortunately, the NUM leadership won’t challenge the ANC government. In fact, the NUM is a leading union in the COSATU union federation, which is part of the ANC coalition government currently led by President Mbeki. The South African “Communist” Party is also a key member of the government and a leading force in the trade union movement. But these sellouts have joined the side of the class enemy. Instead of breaking with all these capitalists, the “C”P and union hacks helped millionaire boss Jacob Zumia — then the country’s deputy president — survive a 2005 corruption scandal. Zumia is now in a dogfight with President Mbeki for control of the ANC and of the government.
In the 1990’s, when the imperialists and big capitalists (like the Anglo-American Mining Corp.) felt they needed to derail the growing revolutionary anti-apartheid anger of workers and youth, they decided to dump the old apartheid racist rulers and allow Nelson Mandela and the ANC to take power while continuing the oppression of capitalism and maintaining their profits.
South Africa’s militant working class, the continent’s most powerful proletariat, needs new leadership, one based on revolutionary communist politics and no alliance with any capitalist or nationalist politician. That’s the only real road to liberation from the yoke of capitalism and racism.