Because Marikana wasn’t for kicks.

I must admit, up until last night I have been somewhat untouched by the debates of economic freedom in our country. It is something I would mull over when it came up in conversation, but by the time I’d close my eyes in the evening, I would have absolved myself of all “social economical” responsibility, and that was that.

Last night ,I attended a business conference presentation where a white man stood up and said (to a room filled with other white men) “My wife and I have don’t have anything more than a matric, were one of those who though F was for fantastic, but I flew her to Paris for valentine’s day and we’ve been to 38 countries”.

I don’t understand. How can one person have enough wealth to travel to 38 countries as he pleases, while another 16 million people are living on social welfare, trying to make ends meet.

Surely, we can’t live in a country with such stark imbalances and while I’d like to think that everybody understands this, it is clear that not everybody does.

I suppose the next question is, why should some people have to share their wealth?

Because we are trying to run a country that we can all live in.

A friend of mine pointed out to me that the affected mining companies have an oversupply of platinum to keep them going till the end of the year. The companies will probably mechanize and then they won’t need the workers anyway.

Although they may be able to mechanize to a certain extent, we must bear in mind that mechanization doesn’t completely rule out man power.

Mechanization can only be done to a certain extent, there will be  areas in the mines that need to be handled manually. And who will take that on? Chris Griffiths? Ben Magara? I don’t think so.

The point here though is that the mine workers strike is not “an isolated” incident, because our flawed labor relations will not make it to the end of the year. Right now, it’s about the mine workers but we know that this is not where it ends. In a few months it could be our teachers, nurses and bus drivers.  If the workers of this country wake up tomorrow morning and decide to down tools. This country could easily come to a standstill. It has happened before; we’ve gone for weeks without refuse removal. When I was in Matric, our teachers went on strike. Labor relations in this country have long been hanging in the balance and temporary solutions continue to backfire on our government.

It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it is almost impossible to remain untouched by the socio economic issues in our country. Somewhere along the line, you will be affected whether it is by your rubble stinking up your yard because it hasn’t been removed, or if the gautrain bus drivers aren’t around to get you to your next meeting.

The exploitative nature of working relations is unbearable. My people are so easily dispensable.  We forget that this city of gold was built by us. One cannot deny the significance and importance of private business in our country, but by the very same token we must acknowledge the fact that it was black labor that made this country what it is. And dare I say it is STILL a majority of black labor that makes this country what it is.

A few hours before the Marikana Massacre happened, AMCU Leader Joseph Mathunjwa said to the mine workers “The life of a black person in South Africa is so cheap, they will kill us and they will finish us.” four hours later, 34 miners were killed.

When did we get here? People died for freedom in this country. We all agree that it was the darkest time in our nation, yet here we are, letting it play out again.

These mine workers are asking for a living wage. It is not a hand out. It is money that they will work for. Black people are not strangers to hard work. Unfortunately,the reality is that many black people will have to work until the day they die. The least we can do is give them something to work for, so that their children have more options than having to go work in the mines to support their families.

I have heard a young graduate argue that our mine workers need to be realistic. That they are by no means entitled to R12 500. He points out (perhaps correctly so) that graduates who are somewhat considered professionals do not earn R12 500 when they go into their first jobs.

Here’s the thing though, In the 70’s White miners were earning R4000.00. If  the apartheid government made provisions for yearly increases (As any employer should) then today in 2014 it is highly likely that those miners could have been earning R12 500.00, maybe even more. So at the end of the apartheid regime, and with the equality brought by democracy, why is it so “unrealistic” that these mine workers should earn a living wage of R12 500.00

Our current struggles are not happening in a vacuum, economic disenfranchisement is not a new thing. It is not an unfathomable monster that suddenly attacked us at the onset of democracy.

For the longest time, my people have been stuck working for people who have had the chips fall in their favor since the beginning of time. The black child is told to go to school, work hard and get an education so they can be something, but at the end of that journey, many of us won’t have anything to show for it. Just an expensive piece of paper, that (apparently) enables us to continue working to make ends meet until the day we die.

The system has got to bad that our people are now fighting each other, instead of fighting side by side for the common cause. This is not how it supposed to be. Those 34 miners should never have died, but they did. And for what? For nothing. Most of the miners that were involved in that Massacre are facing criminal charges; many are disabled and will never be able to work in a mine again. Justice has not been served to those miners, but the cycle has started all over again. Without a significant end, there will be no fresh beginning. They will always be stuck working. Working to live and ultimately working to die.

I for one am sick of playing the blame game. I think we have all come to the conclusion that we missed a step when we were building our rainbow nation. The ruling party has implored us to be patient with them and we must remember that these people that are running the country were pulled out of prisons and brought in straight from guerilla warfare training. Perhaps back then it would have been somewhat unreasonable to pry the petrol bombs out of their hands and instantly replace them with an economics handbook.

But now, I don’t believe a call for economic redress is an unreasonable plea. It has been 20 years,  we expect more. The struggle for democracy is over; the battle has long been won. But we must not forget, how “well” it was won. It is of great concern to me that in our frustrations, we are quick to (perhaps unintentionally) belittle the significance of our democracy. There are few regime changes that went as “smoothly” as ours did.

Ask yourself, what good would economic freedom do for a man who could not choose where he wanted his kids to get an education? What good is economic freedom that would only allow a man to drive his car within the perimeters of “Slegs nie blankes”. In our current struggles, we must not forget the little victories that brought us this far.

But, Like Nelson Mandela said we dare not linger, for our long walk is not ended.

 I hope the miners remain steadfast in their certitude as it is clear that the living wage is not a question of affordability, but rather one of profit margins that only serve to benefit an elite minority, after all it is unheard of to afflict the rich. But there must be an end to this, somethings got to give, and it cant be my people anymore.  My people have come too far to back down, on the other side of this struggle I can only hope that the wheels of economic freedom will be set in motion, because Marikana wasn’t for kicks.

 

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