Update: South African Miners Push Government to Brink


South Africa (SA) is a country blessed with great natural beauty, an abundance of natural mineral resources and a people who are proud and industrious. The country’s manufacturing section drives economic growth and sustainability. Yet the country seems unable to reach its economic potential. Some commentators say that SA’s biggest challenge is escaping its tortured past. Yet, this does not seem to be the case. Political scientists and experts question the country’s readiness from a leadership point of view to fulfill its potential.

Apartheid-the system of racial segregation enforced by legislation-officially ended in 1994. White Supremacy as a way of life in SA came to an end because Whites agreed to relinquish power to Blacks. Willem de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, two iconic figures in modern-day history negotiated a peaceful path to Black majority rule. The African National Congress (ANC) under Nelson Mandela took the reins of government and has never released it. Nelson Mandela became SA’s first elected Black president after the end of apartheid. Unfortunately, long term one party rule normally produces corruption, broken systems of patronage, economic stagnation and politicians who govern simply to stay in power.

Top ANC officials are not sleeping well now-a-days. After two decades at the helm of the government the station of the average Black South African has not improved. The ruling party, though controlling the governmental process, has not brought about a reduction of poverty, reduced the high employment rate or extend social and public services to those most in need. As under Apartheid adequate housing for poor Blacks remains only a dream.

This week’s economic news will cause ANC politicians to lose more sleep. The economy is growing at its slowest pace since the 2009 recession. The manufacturing sector contracted by 8%. The SA rand is trading at a four year low as against the dollar. The social cost of the stagnant economy is staggering. Unemployment is over 30% and 48% of the people live under the poverty line. High tech jobs are available but the average worker does not have the skills to fill the openings. The public sector workers earn much less than their private sector counterparts. Since the ANC came to power the SA economy has lost more than two million jobs. It is no wonder why the average South African has lost confidence in the government’s road map to prosperity.

Last August workers at the Lonmin Marikana clashed with governmental security forces. Commentators and labor advocates framed the clash and labor unrest at the mine as a dispute over wages. Yet, this conclusion is only partial correct. In a post dated August 29, 1012 I suggested workers were more frustrated with the government’s failure to improve their lives than they were with low wages. Eventually the workers returned to work, though with slightly higher wages. In my opinion the country’s economy has not progressed since Apartheid due to continual labor unrest.

Once again the miners are engaging in wild-cat strikes. Apparently the killing of a labor activist sparked the newest round of strikes at the precious metals mines. Weeks after the killing it is still not clear if the shooting was related to some labor dispute. What is clear is that the rivalry between the more militant AMCU and the government friendly NUM is fueling labor unrest. Militant union officials have promised President Jacob Zuma that they will bring the country to a standstill if their demands are not

General elections will be held in 2014. At the ballots the people will either approve of the job that the ANC is doing or not. Consequently President Zuma is making every effort to resolve the labor disputes in advance of the elections. On national TV the President has warned that the labor dispute at the mines is dragging  down the economy. He pleaded with the militant miners to be patient and allow his policies time to right the economy. Each day more union leaders demand that the mines and the industry that they support be nationalized so that the average worker can receive greater compensation for his labor. In my opinion nationalization is not the solution. South Africa Airways was nationalized, and it struggles to stay aloft.

In my opinion time has run out for President Zuma and the ANC party. The miners’ wild-cat strikes hurt more the privately owned mining companies than the government. It is true that the labor unrest causes international investors to park their money in more stable economies. Yet, the international community believes that the S.A.’s economic policies and practices have only added to the country’s woes. This line of thought is expanded on in a News24 piece, entitled South Africa We Have a Problem:”

“The South African economy is bleeding. It is not simply the mining instability or looming strike season which are responsible for the drop in the rand, which is down to the lowest level in 5 years. It is becoming clearer that the rest of the world sees President Jacob Zuma more as a figurehead and a buffoon than a leader who has the interests of the country at heart, and the tumbling rand is clear evidence of that”

 After two decades of setting and implementing governmental policy the ANC party has failed improve the average South African’s station in life. I believe that the prolonged labor unrest is a direct result of worker frustration with years of having to endure economic hardships. It is understandable that miners (and other workers) want a better life for themselves and their families. At least the miners have jobs. There are legions of the chronically unemployed who will no longer bide their time in expectation of better days. The time has come for South Africans to choose an alternative to ANC party. The average person in the street must consider if not the ANC than which party should govern. Where S.A. goes from here is the question that many South Africans are afraid to consider.

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