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ANC ignored cultural codes at Marikana

Date Released: Tue, 26 August 2014 10:43 +0200

IT IS unimaginable that the shooting of mine workers by police at Marikana in August 2012 could have unfolded as it did had they been from KwaZulu-Natal. Consider the outcome of political instruction and police action in Marikana that saw dozens of bullet-riddled bodies being returned to KwaZulu-Natal villages for burial. No experienced politician would have risked it.

What do I mean and why speculate in this fashion? Because there would have been an extra sense of caution in dealing with KwaZulu-Natal migrants, given their historical association with Inkatha politics, which drew whole villages and townships into hellish violence in the late 1980s and 1990s.

It took immense political bravery and creativity for the African National Congress (ANC) to quell this violence, and one of the weapons in its arsenal was a deep sensitivity to cultural codes and a skilful ability to access the cultural universe of recalcitrant warlords and traditional leaders and their factions to get them to buy into the new South Africa.

With this in mind, I wanted to understand why the ANC overlooked the Marikana mine workers’ cultural codes and why it did not use them more effectively to contain the situation.

Of course, the ANC’s alliance with the National Union of Mineworkers, whose members had been murdered, was a major reason it came to favour a discourse that cast strikers as a criminal element that had to be stopped at all costs. But the nonalignment of the Marikana workers to the ANC alone is not enough of an explanation. Anyone coming from a rural village — and many ANC leaders do — would have recognised that the Marikana mine workers, most of whom come from the Eastern Cape, had adopted the Spartan faction-fighting style that is part of SA’s rural history. It is steeped in masculine codes and warrior identity; once men mobilise in this form, they begin to see themselves as fighting to the death, with honour and principle at stake.

One of the key cultural protocols that come into play to cool tempers when this kind of situation unfolds is that men assure each other of mutual respect; they address each other in a kneeling or squatting position to demonstrate humility and grievances are stated openly but immediately followed by reassurances. You can see an example in Rehad Desai’s documentary Miners Shot Down, in an exchange between striking mine workers and a police general, who says all he wants from them is their weapons. What I saw in that scene was an all-too-familiar die-hard, no-surrender attitude I know from my uncles and brothers in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

Faction fighting has its roots in precolonial peer-to-peer combat and military training. However, with the advent of colonisation and the destruction of the old rural order due to land loss and the imposition of taxes in the "native reserves", faction fighting morphed into vicious intergenerational feuds between men from rival clans and villages. The migration of young men to the mines and the penetration of the cash economy disrupted male hierarchies in rural areas, creating a social context in which even petty disagreements could engulf whole villages.

This was also transplanted to the mines of the Witwatersrand. Because of the specific politics of KwaZulu-Natal, the violence of its migrants was also enmeshed with the political violence back home.

Not so in the Eastern Cape, where faction fighting has always largely remained a localised affair, and where fighting on the mines tended to remain separate from the conflicts in the village.

It is unsurprising then, that on top of everything, the ANC was tone deaf to the cultural symbolism of the violence employed by the Marikana workers — it has no political ramification back in the Eastern Cape where the ANC enjoys support.

Lastly, anyone who comes from KwaZulu-Natal knows that migrants from there would have had another weapon to leverage — the threat of drawing in traditional leaders who do not support the ANC. In my mind’s eye, I saw very clearly how it would have played out: the mine workers would have demanded that they be heard, otherwise back home in villages such as Nkandla there might be a fierce reckoning.

Article By: Nomalanga Mkhize

Article Source: Business Day Live

Source:Business Day Live