Marikana tragedy — We are all to blame

[notice]Pastor Afrika Mhlophe says the tragedy at Longmin mine is part of a pattern of violence that will not change without a concerted, national intervention that deals with the root of the problem.[/notice]34 men who are sons, uncles, nephews, brothers, boyfriends, husbands, fathers and breadwinners were mowed down by police artillery in a space of about 10 minutes. The visuals from the news channels covering the protest have been viewed around the world. We are all reeling in shock at such carnage and unnecessary loss of life. But it is the families that will be feeling the impact of this for many years to come. They may be receiving support now but would anyone still remember this incident 10 years from now? You see, the occurrence at Lonmin mine a few days ago was not the first and will probably not be the last, if we follow the current national trajectory.

What do I mean? The death of the 34 miners was preceded by the killing of 10 others just a few days before the Marikana massacre, as some call it. The 10 include two security guards who were burnt to ashes in their vehicle, two police officers whose guns were also stolen in the process, and six miners. These deaths were caused by the miners themselves and the level of uproar was muted compared to now. To me it seems that it is acceptable for workers to kill each other; that it is part and parcel of the struggle;  but it is not acceptable for them to be killed by law enforcement officers.

Culture of violence
What happened at Marikana is symptomatic of the culture of violence that has enveloped our country. We have now become desensitised to the violence until the scale of it causes damage to our international reputation. Do you remember the xenophobic attacks that took place in 2008? 62 people were killed mercilessly by South Africans who are now sleeping peacefully in their homes and 21 of those killed were SA citizens who were mistaken for foreigners. Remember the picture which was seen around the world of a Mozambican man who was burned alive by residents of Ramaphosa informal settlement? Thousands more African migrants were displaced and had their meagre possessions and properties looted. Even now we still have sporadic attacks against foreign nationals taking place in our townships.

Do you remember the SATAWU security strike of 2006? This violent strike lasted for over three months and when it was over about 40 non-striking security guards had been killed. Some were thrown out of moving trains on their work to work and others had petrol bombs thrown into their homes. We have forgotten these men already. I don’t remember any municipal workers’ strike that was not accompanied by violence and intimidation of other citizens. The striking workers overturn rubbish bins and damage property and this is why the courts have recently ruled that unions will be held liable for the damage caused by their members during a strike action. To me it seems that the loss of life and the mayhem that accompanies most protests in SA is accepted collateral damage. We are all resigned to the fact that when community members protest they will block major highways, stone passing motorists, destroy valuable property, and caused enormous amount of damage.

Death becomes a necessity to make a point
I mean even health workers become violent against their patients when they are protesting for a pay rise. They don’t only leave sick and dying patients unattended but some sabotage the system by interfering with the machines and apparatus keeping the people alive. Death becomes a necessity so that a point is made. What about the Eastern Cape educators who held the department at ransom for most of this year so that they could get what they want? The future of the children in their care was also a tradeable commodity for the achievement of their demands. The ANC Youth League threatened to make the city of Cape Town ungovernable and the result is that destruction of property and the deaths of a bus driver and the inhabitants of a house his bus crashed into.

What happened in Marikana is what happens in SA on a regular basis. Just yesterday protesting hawkers in Pretoria city centre went on a rampage and trashed the CBD area. Politicians themselves and union leaders regularly make threats of violence when they are engaged in protest actions. Remember the “we-will-kill-for-Zuma” statement? Did you hear anyone from the rul,ing party rebuking Malema for making such an utterance? We have had scores of people slain because they were accused of committing a crime. All the killings I have mentioned above were committed by people who don’t consider themselves criminals. They are probably pious people who are trying to raise upstanding children.

The truth is, whether it is the destruction of property, vigilantism, homicide, sabotage, theft, road rage, etc. we are a nation of hooligans and are prone to violence at the slightest provocation. While looking for someone to apportion blame to over what happened in Marikana we should be aware that we are all to blame. We should mourn the lives lost in Marikana and offer our support to the families but we must remember that those lives will never be recovered. What we can recover, however, is our lost morals. Like we did with an initiative like the Peace Commission during the struggle period, we should campaign for a nation with ethics and that values human life.

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. — Matthew 5:9, NLT


  1. Gill van der Riet

    Excellent article very well said!

  2. Francois du Toit

    @ Gill, I agree.

  3. Hugh G Wetmore

    Afrika, you show the marks of a true Statesman. You bring a wide perspective, a deep analysis. (But I’d like you to explain why “we are all to blame”. You, Andre, Errol etc and others are working hard to fight the moral decline ~ how can you be to blame for Marikana and all the other violent demonstrations? I blame everyone who rejects all authority – we see it on the roads, in the classrooms, in the workplace, in politics. “Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to demonstrate, to picket and to petition” (SA Constitution 2.17). When last did we see a peaceful, unarmed protest? Why do most condemn the police when it started with the workers and unions? Dig deeper and we see the provocation of too-wide a salary gap between management and labour; labour laws that inhibit job creation. At the root of all is the sin of GREED.

    • Hi Hugh,

      Yes I agree that workers may feel agrieved because of the gap between their salaries and that of management. This is part and parcel of the capitalist sysytem. I mean entrepreneurs start business to make as much profit for themselves as possible. They don’t start business for social reasons.
      Labour also has a responsibility to relax the strigent laws and workers’ expectations that are hindering job creation. Workers need to continually upskill themselves so that they increase their value and get paid more. Ultimately we need to create an environment that is conducive for small business because this is the solution to creating employment.
      Why I think we are all to blame for the Marikana carnage? We have allowed an enevironment of intimidation and violence to be norm in our country. Although we criticise striking workers when they trash the streets (and we should) yet the culture of lawlessness is embeded in all of us. You see this in the way we drive, bylaws, etc. We are to blame because we continue to allow ourselves to focus on narrow interests. Our voting patterns show that we don’t put the country’s wellbeing first but often we put the interests of race and class above everything else. We strive to protect our “turfs” rather than striving to protect SA. We are to blame because we are selfish and indifferent to the suffering of others. Things don’t matter much to most of us until they affect you or those close to you.
      We only complain about lack of service delivery or crime when it hits home. As Christians we can change this country but we are making for less effort in this regard. I was in Nigeria recently and with far less resources the Church there is making far more impact. There are churches that run universities, schools, health facilities, etc. The militancy that is part of the protests in our country also show that we are not doing a good job in discipling people. Most of these people who cause mayhem also attend a church somewhere. How is this possible?
      Thank you for your encouragement.

  4. Lightwatchersa

    “To me it seems
    that it is acceptable for workers to
    kill each other; that it is part and
    parcel of the struggle; but it is not
    acceptable for them to be killed by
    law enforcement officers.”

    ??? I’m not sure of your stance here….but no death or violence is acceptable…struggle or not!! A peaceful protest is one without weapons. These miners were not peaceful but radically violent. Must a Policeman stand and be hacked to death in the name of ‘freedom of rights’? If so, then we can expect anarchy and lawlessness to rule in our nation…oh sorry, it already does!!

    • Not we cannot allow an environment of anarchy and lawlessness to rule our nation. There is absolutely no need for people to carry weapons during a protest and neither should they cause havoc while protesting. The protestors loose the sympathy of the public when they inconvinience everyone in their unhapiness. I don’t agree with the behaviour of the miners prior to the shootings at Marikana. Let us hope the commission of inquiry would shed more light on what happened and how do we avoid this in the future. Thanks

  5. Glad to hear this is your stance as you had me a bit concerned there. As you can see the way things are going it seems as if lawlessness is ruling at the moment and as a Christian I find this highly disturbing. I’m not saying the Police shooting people like this is a good thing, I’m simply stating at what point do we draw the line. As you mentioned in your article, we are becoming desensitized to the violence in our nation. I have a ministry where we copy many of Gateways articles to rally people to prayer, but few actually pay heed of these requests, putting it down to just another strike or protest. Sad but true!! Our spiritual apathy is not helping this nation any more than our tolerance of such violent actions in the name of ‘Free of Rights’ etc. We should be ashamed of our conduct here as many other nations witness what is going on, or being allowed to transpire in our nation. I’m not saying either that other nations are any better, but let’s get to business taking care of ours…as it is sorely needed.