Below are two personal reports from last weeks solidarity visit with the women of Marikana on 15th September, 2012. Another visit is planned for this Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd of September. First some background to the crisis by the Solidarity organising committee:
On 16 August 2012, 34 striking Lonmin mineworkers were shot dead, 78 injured and over 250 arrested by the police in Marikana, a platinum mining area 100 kilometres from Johannesburg. Until then Marikana was ‘off the map’, a little known ‘settler’ mining town, a place of great poverty and little hope. But the strike and the responding repression has changed this. Marikana is now on the lips of all South Africans, and has been the subject of a great deal of discussion, analysis and focus by government, academics, unionists, activists, commentators and journalists.
The Marikana strike and the subsequent massacre has put in the spotlight, eighteen years into South Africa’s democracy, the persistent and widespread exploitation of cheap black labour, much of this still underpinned by the system of migration within the country and on a regional scale. Marikana has pointed to the failures of South African labour legislation and centralised bargaining systems and has highlighted the failures of the post-apartheid union model, which in the case of Cosatu, has substantially failed workers and wedded them to the tripartite alliance and other ruling interests. Workers in Marikana and across the platinum belt in the North West province rejected NUM and planned and managed their strike action through their own organisational formations, none of them traditional union models; in the case of Marikana, workers struck their deal with Lonmin at the close of day on 18 September 2012. More details on the background from the Daily Maverick
I was part of a solidarity visit to women in Marikana today. It was a very intense day. Just before we got there we heard that the police had shot women. Three that we saw were shot in the leg and body and one was injured in the stampede to get away from police. The women chose to gather for the solidarity meeting, even though the ‘state of emergency’ declared yesterday makes gatherings of more than 10 together outside illegal. The spirit of the women and their courage in the face of the brutality was truly inspiring.
Marikana is enormous, the workers live in tiny shacks on cracked grounds. The roads are so bad they are almost impassable unless you have a 4 wheel drive. Most houses don’t have access to water and there are communal pit latrines outside. The women told their stories of the recent and ongoing police brutality. There was a heavy police presence on the way in, casspirs and hippos from which they had been firing randomly in the area we gathered. While we were meeting, a police helicopter followed by an army helicopter flew over repeatedly. Early on the men ran away but the women decided to stand their ground and actually to sit down. The meeting lasted a few hours. It’s a 3 hours drive from Joburg. We were back and forth to mine hospital and then municipal hospital. …. Gabrielle
So, apologies that things have moved fast with the Women’s march and there hasnt been time to co-ordinate in the best way possible. This is hopefully an opportunity. A brief history of the march is that a group of us in the women’s solidarity space went back for a follow up conversation with the women in Marikana this last Saturday. As we were nearing the area the women called us to say the Nyalas were back combing the Nkaneng community and then started shooting with rubber bullets. As you have heard, four women were injured (three shot with rubber bullets in the legs and one injured during the stampede).
Sadly, one of the women, Pauline, died today. When we left on Saturday Pauline was in a bit of pain but was in high spirits talking and eating and laughing and enraged by what the police had done and ready to be among those leading the march, even with her injured leg. We are waiting on news from women in Marikana who went to the hospital with the family to ascertain the cause of Pauline’s death.
At the 4 hour meeting we held with about 50-60 women following the shootings, women were so angry and ready to march the next monday. After discussion the women decided they wanted to march as women on Saturday 22nd. They were very specific on their need to march as women, to build their power as women, to express their rage as women, to reclaim a voice they have been denied as women, to reclaim their power as women, as members of the community of Marikana, as citizens of this country. They articulated their need to march as women not as a separatist thing but as being about taking their power while at the same time acting in solidarity with the men who had been killed, some of whom are their relatives, and making visible the stories of the women of Marikana which had been invisibilised in the reporting and engagement on the Marikana story. We spoke about the possibility of the strike being resolved. they were clear that while they fully support the workers wage and other demands, the justice question and the other issues affecting women and the community including living under conditions of state of emergency, etc remain. They have continued to organise for the march despite yesterday’s developments around the strike…… Sipho