It is one year to the day that the Marikana massacre unfolded on the Wonderkop koppie and was witnessed on national television. The trauma of this spectacle still hangs heavy in the air for many who are unable to make any sense of this heinous occurrence, because there is no making sense of it. There are no logical, intellectual, emotional or moral parameters, or footholds or handgrips to clutch on to. It is pure cognitive dissonance. The only choice one is left with is to look at this as the hideous fallout of a Thatcherian macroeconomic policy that favours corporate demands over people’s rights.
This is the neoliberal capitalist state that South Africa is. Call it a mix of social democracy and neoliberalism if you will — in my mind that is an oxymoron. Call it a state where human rights live in our Constitution — the most progressive in the world. But how do these rights play out for the very poor?
With the Marikana massacre in mind it would seem that where neoliberalism has taken hold there can be no human rights — at least not for the majority of people. They are squeezed out of accessing any economic rights for a start, as 20 years into a democracy we have remained a country that still favours white capital over all else — including, it would seem, the Constitution. Human beings have literally become disposable in this current economic framework. It is as if they have lost the basic right to exist while the system attempts to make them more invisible, more muted, more policed and brutalised, more shut away and dumped miles from areas where “real” people live and where they could possibly earn a living. Instead they have to eke out a living on small social grants, which the state holds up as proof of their “rights-based” democratic governance.
But these grants are simply not enough to sustain people and certainly do not keep up with the inflation. Basic foodstuffs have become expensive for working people. How much harder this must be for the poor of our land. Even bread and mealie meal are beginning to feel like luxuries.
In a system where companies are given free rein to run rough shod over their worker’s rights and where foreign investment and profits are given precedence over citizens’ rights, the state cannot claim that human rights are working for the people. In fact, it is safe to say that poverty is in breach of the entire Bill of Human Rights. Neoliberal economic policies have seen the gap between the rich and the poor grow much wider over the past decades. Thus it is also safe to say that neoliberalism is in breach of human rights — unless you are part of the elite.
In a neoliberal system there are likely to be many social uprisings and protests rooted in these communities that are forced into untenable living conditions. Unfortunately the mainstream media will usually report on these uprisings as unfettered anger because of water cut-offs or lack of service delivery or the demand for better wages, as if these occurrences happen in a vacuum of the entire spectrum of what it means to be human. While these complaints form an element of the cause for social strife, they are not the only reasons. Most times the anger that erupts in these upheavals is to do with survival itself — and the indomitable human spirit that refuses the material conditions and lived reality forced upon it while others live in luxury. These uprisings are in direct response to what economist Patrick Bond has referred to as “the war against the poor” by both state and the corporate class. They speak volumes about the human spirit’s refusal to be perceived and treated like human waste — dumped in wastelands and cut off from basic services.
These uprisings are in response to the ongoing stress poor people are forced to endure, stresses that include the lack of proper housing and sanitation, lack of basic infrastructure, lack of access to subsidised healthy food and health services and schools. It is this ongoing stressful onslaught that creates untold ill-health in poor communities as often irreversible diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and entrenched depression abound. Add to this little access to healthy food, nappies and sanitary pads, which also creates feelings of worthlessness. These stresses often lead to mental health problems. To be poor is also expensive as lack of access to wholesale shopping and subsidised public transport places enormous pressure on the poor. In this world it costs a fortune just to have your cellphone recharged as many have to send their phones to town with a taxi to charge at a shop. It costs in the region of R20. Who can afford this when food costs the earth?
All services in a neoliberal state are privatised and run on the profits-first basis. Under these conditions it is clear that the workers remain in slavery as their wages do not begin to offer them a decent life or cover basic expenses — and the poor begin to starve. Only last year two children were found on the roadside starved to death deep in the North West province. This is just the beginning of many more such cases. Yet our government seemingly continues to largely ignore this scourge of poverty, preferring to sup with the wealthy corporate class instead. That these multinationals are polluting our air and land and exploiting our resources and enforcing cheap labour, seems to mean little to leaders that have finally, become the elite themselves.
This fact was put into stark focus when the state sided with Lonmin in the Marikana strikes last year, which resulted in the massacre of 34 men in the space of a few minutes, a heinous manifestation of the dehumanisation of collective bodies living on the edges of the economy — the slaughtering of real live people in honour of corporate greed over human rights.
The Marikana massacre is the most draconian abuse of human rights in our post-1994 “democracy” and echoes the massacres of the apartheid era. It speaks of a state that seems to not care that the poor do not benefit from the so-called trickle-down effect of a capitalist state, and neither do they benefit from a Constitution that promises to protect all citizens of South Africa.
That the wives of the slain miners are still waiting for justice and struggling to survive in the process, is indicative of corporations and the state’s wilful ignorance of even basic human rights.