Sandile Memela
Sandile Memela

Let the miners eat cake, too

Ask any person if they’d like to see an end to rampant corruption and inequality and I bet that if they’re sane and moral they’d answer a resounding “yes!”

Corruption has been rated as the biggest scourge afflicting our fledgling democracy. What I don’t understand is why economic inequality is not treated with the same contempt and disdain. It’s economic inequality that leads to corruption because those who have nothing or less desire more.

Ask the same person if they’d like to fight corruption as active citizens and I’m pretty sure that not only would they mumble helplessness but the answer would be “no!” It’s not their problem and they’ll claim to be too busy.

I’m sure you’re aware that I’m referring to you, dear reader. Most of us are good at pointing out the problem but aren’t yet ready to do anything to find solutions.

The issue of corruption and economic inequality should, rightly, cause outrage among citizens. In fact it should be the rallying cry for the new struggle. Until these twin problems of corruption and economic inequality are confronted with the same vigour, there will be no peace or harmony in our beautiful land.

Let me clarify – it’s not the ministers, MECs, mayors, senior and junior government officials who are solely responsible for corruption in society. If men and women live in a money-driven society that measures happiness and success with what money can buy, any conventional man or woman will succumb to the temptation to steal or be corrupt, if they can. This is no justification. But the point is corruption thrives in a dog-eat-dog world.

Far too many good men and women do nothing about corruption and inequality. Instead they prefer to keep silent in the face of evil. Too few men and women are recognised as national heroes for their public stance against corruption. In fact far too few are willing to even be whistle-blowers. The culture is: “It’s not my business.”

Over the past few months the mining sector has witnessed deep rumbles of discontent that have not only exploded into violence, murder and death but tarnished the international image and profile of SA’s future and the economy. Though we are aware of what happened, not many have bothered to establish why the miners chose this aggressive and violent path that borders on self-destruction.

I’m sure some might be familiar with the unhappiness over the alleged closeness of the Cosatu-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers to mine management. In a strange twist of events reports suggest that Cosatu is now considered a sweetheart union with lots of investments. Interestingly the story that’s emerging is that workers have lost faith in a leadership that’s in the pockets of management and thus prefer to take the bull by the horns.

But what escapes most people is the fact that the mining sector is an example of the perpetuation of economic inequality. No matter what arguments are forwarded in the name of affirmative action or black economic empowerment, this does not take away the injustice and inequality that prevails in the sector. Far too few enjoy the benefits and wealth accrued from mining while too many are suffering.

Those who support the status quo will tell you that investors have every right to rake in money for what they’ve put into the sector. This is mostly done at the expense of the workers. Those against profit-driven behaviour rekindle the Freedom Charter that all people shall share in the country’s riches and push for using the profits to promote social cohesion, justice and equality. After all we are striving for a just and equal society as espoused in the Constitution.

But ever since the discovery of diamonds and gold, the mining sector has epitomised capitalist greed and the promotion of economic inequality and social injustice. This is a serious threat to the stability of our hard-fought for democracy and freedom.

I’m firmly in the against camp on this and not embarrassed to say workers have every right to not only stand up for their rights but defy and challenge the perpetuation of economic inequality.

If these self-sacrificing men, women, children and families were provided with decent living conditions that offer them a chance to a life of dignity and decency, I would not have a problem with mine bosses and executives earning R56-million a year. But when this happens 18 years into freedom where African workers are condemned to live in pigsty conditions, then it’s time to draw a line in the sand. We must reject everything that perpetuates this and breathes new life into apartheid.

I’m not pleased to read that mining companies are willy-nilly firing workers for demanding higher wages. This is a development we cannot afford. I’m also not pleased that the courts give the mining companies the legal right to implement these harsh steps. It does not make things easier in terms of taking us forward.

What I know is that it’s the working class that has – through self-sacrifice, passion and commitment – delivered the new society we all live in today. There would be no freedom and democracy if the workers did not play a vanguard role in the struggle to establish a just society.

What we’re witnessing at the mines is resistance not only to exploitation but economic inequality that sees a few blacks getting richer and richer at the expense of the hardworking men and women who cannot even provide decent shelter, clothing and food for their families. The brutal display of power by the mines and force by the state cannot deny that the mining sector is the epitome of economic inequality.

Of course there will be no nationalising of the mines and it’s perfectly understood that this is government policy. But perhaps if we were to give decent and dignified wages, shelter, food and living conditions we could say we were making progress. This society will always be judged by how it treats its miners. It’s time the miners ate cake, too, rather than just sweetened water and dry bread. The mining houses must be judged.

Tags: , , ,

  • #FeesMustFall is unravelling SA’s founding pact
  • People of colour carry the burden of environmental racism in a post-racial era
  • Marikana: Moment of reckoning with whole extractive system
  • The particularity of race and the universality of being human: Derrida on Mandela