Vieux Farka Touré and the music of Mali: “spreading the news of what has happened to us and what is still happening”
From Chicago magazine:
By Kevin McKeough
Since the late, legendary Ali Farka Touré first brought the music of Mali to widespread attention in the mid-1980s, the western African nation’s musicians have beguiled listeners worldwide with their trance-inducing guitar patterns and Arabic flavored keening. Tragically, Mali has received more attention lately for the violent conflict in the country’s northern region, which encompasses part of the vast Sahara Desert. After Islamist extremists recently seized control of a large part of the area, including the storied city of Timbuktu, and committed numerous human rights violations, in January France sent soldiers into its former colony to drive out the militants. While the French military has retaken most of the area, the situation remains unstable both in northern Mali and in the south, where the country’s military has deposed two successive governments and reportedly is engaging in harsh repression.
Vieux Farka Touré, Ali Farka Touré’s son and a world music star in his own right, was performing Friday, Feb. 22, at the Old Town School of Folk Music. C Notes contacted Touré, who lives in the Malian capital, Bamako, to gain his perspective of the travails afflicting his country and how he and other Malian musicians are responding.
What are your thoughts about the Islamists’ invasion of northern Mali and France’s efforts to drive them out of the country? My thoughts are the same as everyone in Mali. The invasion of the Islamists was hell on earth. It was a nightmare unlike anything we have ever experienced. We are very grateful to President Hollande and the French for their intervention. For the moment at least they have saved our country.
How have these disruptions affected you personally? I am safe and my family is safe. But there is great uncertainty in Mali today. Nobody knows what we can expect in the next years, months or even days. So it is very bad for the spirit to be living in this kind of situation.
What’s your reaction to the Islamist invaders banning music in the areas they controlled? I was furious. It broke my heart like it did for everyone else. It was as though life itself was taken from us.
You were part of an all-star group of Malian musicians who recently recorded the song “Mali-ko” in response to the conflict. Please talk about the project and why you participated in it. Musicians in Mali play a very important role in society. We are like journalists, telling people what is happening. We are also responsible for speaking out when there are problems, and we are responsible for lifting the spirit of the nation. So that is why we made “Mali-ko.” Fatoumata [Diawara] organized everyone and we all spent some time hanging out in the studio and doing our little parts. It was a very nice project. I’m happy with the result and I’m happy that it got a lot of attention in the United States and in Europe.
Aside from the song, what role do you think musicians can play in responding to the situation in Mali? We can do what we are already doing—we are going everywhere we can around the world and spreading the news of what has happened to us and what is still happening. Equally, we must continue to entertain our people and keep them proud to be from Mali. For Malians, music is the greatest source of pride so we must work very hard to keep that pride alive. Right now it is not easy for people to be proud and have faith.
What do you think needs to be done in Mali? First and most importantly, we need to continue to drive out all the militants from our country. There is no future for Mali with terrorists living amongst us. Period. Also we must move quickly to engage in free and open elections to restore the faith and the legitimacy of our country in the eyes of the world and its people. These two things are the most critical at this time.
Your music resembles your father’s but has its own distinct quality. Can you talk about what you’re trying to do in the music, how and why you combine traditional and contemporary styles? With my music I try not to think very much about what I am doing. I just let myself be open to inspiration and it will take me where I need to go. So I am not thinking “for my next album I must do a song with reggae, or I must do an acoustic album because this will be good for my career” or anything like that. I think all artists are like lightning rods for inspiration and you must be open to it or it will not strike you. If you try to do something artistic it will not be as good as if you just let inspiration decide what you are doing. So my style is just based on what influences me and what inspires me.
For a country with a small population, Mali has produced a large number of internationally recognized musicians. Why do you think the country has so many excellent musicians? This is the mystery that everyone wants to understand. I do not know for sure why there are so many big international stars from Mali. But I know this: We take our music very, very seriously. It is at the core of our culture and it is the definition of Mali as a people. There is no Mali without Malian music. So I think this inspires many young people to try to become musicians. Maybe everywhere in the world has this kind of talent but there is not as strong a push for everyone to develop their talents in music. But honestly, I don’t know. We are lucky for this great richness of talent. That is for sure.
Kevin McKeough is a contributing music critic for Chicago magazine
See also ‘The Hendrix of the Sahara’
By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesey)
The Algerian hostage killings are shocking.
El Watan reports up to 50 hostages dead, though there are serious doubts about the accuracy of this figure.
This has to be looked up with deep ethical and political seriousness.
These are some reflections:
The Algerian army’s operation was entirely their own. On France-Inter and Europe I this morning it was repeated that the Algerians were determined to put an end to the crisis without negotiating – a long-standing principle. They were determined to “deal with internal problems by themselves (more here). The experience of confronting armed and murderous Islamists in Algeria, from the 1990s civil war to the present, is that the state’s army is prepared to use maximum force with minimum respect for human rights.
The Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has been a leading figure in ’Al-Qaeda au Maghreb islamique (Aqmi), is now clearly identified as the leader of the attack. He is dead. Belmokhtar has operated in the north of Mali. The ’emir’ is held responsible for kidnapping several French nationals in the recent past. In December Belmokhtar announced in une vidéo publiée par Libération.fr,that he had broken with Aqmi and created a new group, Al-Moulathamin (those who sign with blood)»), close to the Mouvement unicité et jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (le Mujao, which controls the region of Gao in Mali). The reasons for this are likely to be connected to Belmokhtar’s personal smuggling rackets. However his men remain in alliance with Aqmi.
There are therefore clear links between the hostage taking and Mali. Belmokhtar is said to have demanded that the French intervention should end. Anybody going further into the shifting alliances and disputes in Mali should pause and look at this seriously before offering an analyses of, for example, the relations between the Tuaregs, their group, the l’Azawad (MNLA) (more here), and the Islamists. I would be very very cautious in this areas.
Belmokhtar is a man with an armed band with blood on their hands. It is no surprise that an Irishman who escaped from the Algerian hostage crisis had explosives tied around his neck.
“Primary responsibility for tragic events in Algeria rest with terrorists who murdered some and held others hostage”: For the first time it’s hard to disagree with Foreign Secretary William Hague.
How Not to Respond:
Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition directly links the taking of hostages to the French intervention in Mali. She states that, “This new scramble for Africa, where the old colonial powers of France and Britain try to reassert their control in the resource rich region, looks likely to end in tears very quickly. ” No doubt she can barely contain the floods of teardrops this morning.
She goes on to say, “When France began its air strikes and invasion in Mali last week the rebels there warned its government that there would be retaliation. Blowback has come more rapidly than anyone expected.”
German then says, portentously, “The spread of the wars and instability to Africa is a very dangerous development.”
The Stop the War Coalition have shown scant regard to what the people in Mali think themselves, or much awareness of what has happened in the country.
German now shows an astounding ignorance when she says, “The long running civil war in Algeria is being escalated as a result of instability elsewhere. “
Somebody should buy her a good Chronology and teach her how not to confuse the 1990s with, say, the year 2013.
Let us make the point that the primary concern should be the wishes and interests of the people of North Africa and Mali.
It is clear that the Islamists, in their various shapes and alliances, are opposed to the most basic human rights. They torture and murder. They rape women who do not wear full Islamic covering. They destroy Muslim religious shrines that they consider ‘pagan’. They ban the wonderful music of the country. They fuel existing ethnic hatreds.
Opposition to them in Mali is not motivated by a ‘scramble for Africa’, which few outside the StWC and their ’anti-imperialist’ arm-chair generals have noticed at play in this crisis.
Still less, as some, like her partner John Rees suggests, is it a matter of the ‘West’ against ‘Islam’.
The fight against the Mali Islamists is motivated by common human decency.
And it comes from the people of Mali.
There are many issues around the French intervention, and the forces that govern the country. There is the background of the neo-liberal policies that have weakened the state and let the way open for this crisis. There is the responsibility of the country’s political class and army.
Does France intend to stay? Will its intervention, as the Nouveau parti anticaptialiste argues, make things worse?
But until we get that point, of combating the Islamists – in solidarity with Mali and North African peoples – across we will be as morally and politically bankrupt at Lindsey German.
Here is a press release [from Wednesday 24th October] from the Marikana Support Campaign on the intimidation of commission of inquiry witnesses:
The Marikana Support Campaign is deeply shocked by this evening’s violent detention, on unknown grounds, of four Marikana worker leaders, and the abuse of other members of the community, including women, and the Marikana Support Campaign local coordinator by the police.
The group, returning by taxi to Marikana from a punishing and emotional day in the Farlam Commission, was corralled by an estimated thirty to forty police in a casspir, vans and unmarked vehicles. The group we all wearing campaign T shirts, stating ‘Remember the Slain of Marikana’ was ordered out of the vehicle by police wielding pistols and rifles, forced to lie face down in the dirt, and pinned down with booted feet at their necks. The police slapped and beat members of the group, threatening to shoot them if they attempted to look up. One member of the group was warned “I will blow your head away!”
Four of the men, all former strike leaders at Lonmin and key witnesses at the commission , were hauled up off the ground, identified by police as “these are the ones that we are looking for.” No reasons were given for their detention, and a member of the group recalls how the sounds of boots striking bodies could be heard as the men were dragged away and thrown into the police vans.
This unlawful and deeply abusive behavior by the police can only test the confidence of the family members of the slain workers, the surviving workers and community members’ in the work of the Commission. The police behavior signals their continued disregard for the civil and political rights of citizens, and the work of the Commission.
People testifying before or supporting the work of the Commission must be guaranteed their safety. Instead, community members attacked by the police tonight feel that the Commission has “become a hunting ground for the police.” This is the place where the police identify people, and will come after them to punish and silence them. The work of the Commission is being deliberately thwarted by the police to escape the responsibility they carry for the massacre of 34 people.
The Marikana Solidarity Campaign calls on the Farlam Commission and President Zuma to put in place an immediate moratorium on the SAPS and its harassment and victimization of Marikana workers and community members. We also call on the Commission to demand the immediate release of all strike leaders that have been detained in the past two weeks. The Commission and the President must ensure that the necessary conditions of trust and safety for those appearing before the Commission are met, or it will fail miserably!
H/t: Martyn H
Brits, send protest messages the South African High Commission: http://southafricahouseuk.com/
Yacine Zaid, a trade unionist and human rights activist, has been abducted by unknown men in Algeria. The IUF, the global union federation for food workers, has launched an urgent appeal to the Algerian government to intervene to secure his release now. Please Yacine Zaid, a trade unionist and human rights activist, has been abducted by unknown men in Algeria. The IUF, the global union federation for food workers, has launched an urgent appeal to the Algerian government to intervene to secure his release now. Please take a moment to send off your message of protest by clicking here: http://cms.iuf.org/?q=node/1965
And please — spread the word.
— Which campaigns have I missed? Click here to find out: http://www.labourstartcampaigns.net/mycampaigns.cgi?
This should have been headline news everywhere:
Unarmed people power drums Libya’s jihadists out of Benghazi
These were the incredible scenes in Benghazi as tens of thousands of ordinary citizens marched on the Islamic extremists in their compounds and drove them out with shouts, placards and sheer courage
The Observer 23 Sept 2012
Above: A Libyan man gestures as thousands of people march in Benghazi during a protest against militias on 21 September, 2012. Photograph: Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images
As fires blazed and protesters danced in the ruined compound of a vanquished jihadist militia, I watched as the citizens of the Libyan city of Benghazi staged a dramatic display of raw people power.Numbed by the murder of an American ambassador in their city, furious with jihadist militias lording it over them and frustrated by a government too chaotic and intimidated to react, ordinary Benghazians took matters into their own hands.
Elsewhere in the world jihadists staged fiery attacks on foreign targets. In Libya they were sent running by people power. A rally called to Rescue Benghazi on Friday night became the launch pad for a spontaneous retaking of the streets, and more – a retaking of the soul that saw this city become the cradle of last year’s Arab spring revolution.
Read the rest here.
By Martyn Hudson of Workers Liberty
Neville Alexander passed away from cancer following a long period of ill-health on 27
August 2012, aged 75
A descendant of East African slaves and an inmate with Nelson Mandela on Robben island, Neville Alexander should best be remembered as perhaps the greatest mind thrown up by the revolutionary left in the South African struggle.
Born in Cradock in what is now the Eastern Cape he became a Marxist early in life through contacts at school and university. He was influenced by Maoism in his early political life and by ideas of importing guerrilla warfare into the South Africa struggle. By the early 1960s Alexander, at the beginning of a decade of imprisonment on Robben Island, had become significantly attracted to the ideas of Trotskyism, particularly after meeting Natalya Sedova, Trotsky’s widow, in Paris during his overseas studies.
During his time in prison and afterwards he developed an analysis of capitalism in South Africa which critiqued and helped to understand how the class struggle was perceived in racial terms and ‘colour-caste relations’. Although this was criticized within the Trotskyist left by theorists such as Hillel Ticktin, Alexander’s attempt to undermine the reactionary role of the race issue in South African liberatory politics led to major insights into what a post-apartheid regime might look like and how activists could create a truly multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, working-class based liberation movement. The failure of the ANC to do this and to challenge capital in the transition from white minority rule in South Africa led to Alexander seeing the transition as an “unfinished revolution”.
Alexander always regretted that he wasn’t able to construct an ongoing dialogue after his imprisonment with Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement, but in the early 1990s it was clear that new political questions about the role of the working class in the post-Apartheid era were emerging and it was during this period that he founded the Workers’ Organisation for Socialist Action to advocate for independent anti-Stalinist working-class politics in South Africa and to agitate for a mass workers’ party in opposition to the stranglehold of the South African Communist Party and its support for the ANC.
He also continued his studies of national liberation begun in prison and, specifically, until the end of his life on the role of education in the struggle for emancipation in South Africa. This led to him to a directing role in understanding the primacy of the idea of a multi-language state – which is undoubtedly one of the few policy successes of the post-Apartheid ANC. In his foreword to the Zulu translation of the Communist Manifesto, Alexander again stressed the importance of struggling against colonial mastery through the languages of the masses and the reassertion of the idea of education as a primary tool of socialism.
He never hid is profound disappointment with the nature of the post-Apartheid state even though he had clearly predicted it. In his Strini Moodley lecture at the University of KwaZulu Natal in 2010 he referred to Hilary Mantel’s great novel of the French revolution A Place of Greater Safety. One of the characters, Lucille wants to know what the philosophy of the Revolution actually was. She was wary of asking Robespierre about this as he would lecture her for hours on the General Will, or of asking Desmoulins who would provide an insightful couple of hours on the Roman republic. So she asked Danton and he just said: “Oh, I think it has a philosophy – Grab what you can, and get out while the going’s good.”
This expressed the disillusionment of most South Africans with the new regime and its new elite of millionaires which had left most Black South African lives untouched. In fact Alexander considered the new state much more capitalist that its Apartheid parent. He argued that the settlement of 1994 was about stabilizing and expanding capitalist transformation in South Africa and had little to do with liberation or socialism.
He argued until the end of his life for a relentless criticism of capital, a vision of full rather than constitutional legality, for full gender rights, for access to basic services so absent in South Africa, for workers’ control over the means of production. Anticipating the Marikana massacre he wrote in 2010: “The final disillusionment will come, of course, when the repressive apparatuses of the state, instead of supporting the exploited masses and other oppressed strata, turn their weapons on the masses to protect the interests of the capitalist class.”
Neville Alexander’s attempt to understand the nature of Stalinism and its pernicious effects on the liberation struggle and his lifelong dedication to developing working class political independence are an inspiration to those he worked with and to our struggles in other parts of the world and certainly in the South Africa in which he was immersed and loved. As he said not long ago “I believe that if, through discussion and practical action, we can again visualise that other South Africa, we will very soon put behind us the barbaric and vulgar universe in which we are forced to try to survive with dignity today.”
Current struggles in South Africa mark out the route towards that social liberation that Alexander long planned for and will not now see.
An article by abahlali baseMjondolo: http://abahlali.org/node/9035
Shiraz Socialist is not in a position to judge whether this article is fair and/or accurate, but we publish it in the interest of information and debate:
After the brutal, heartless and merciless cold blood bath of 45 Marikana mine workers by the South African Police Services: this was a massacre!
South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. The amount of poverty is excessive. In every township there are shacks with no sanitation and electricity. Unemployment is hovering around 40%. Economic inequality is matched with political inequality. Everywhere activists are facing serious repression from the police and from local party structures.
Mining has been central to the history of repression in South Africa. Mining made Sandton to be Sandton and the Bantustans of the Eastern Cape to be the desolate places that they still are. Mining in South Africa also made the elites in England rich by exploiting workers in South Africa. You cannot understand why the rural Eastern Cape is poor without understanding why Sandton and the City of London are rich.
Mining has been in the news in South Africa recently. Malema, a corrupt and authoritarian demagogue who represents a faction of the BEE elite, has been demanding nationalisation. Progressive forces inside and outside of the alliance oppose Malema because he represents the most predatory faction of the elite and is looking for a massive bail out for his friends who own unprofitable mines. What we stand for is the socialisation, under workers’ control, of the mines. We also stand for reparations for the hundred years of exploitation.
Things are starting to change but not for the better. Khulubuse Zuma, the president’s nephew and Zondwa Mandela, the former president’s grandchild, and many others with close family ties to politicians have become mining tycoons overnight. China has joined the bandwagon as well, plundering our resources.
Frans Baleni, the General of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) earns R105 000 a month. NUM has become a route into high office in government and even to places on the boards of the mining companies. The union is rapidly losing all credibility on the mines. It is clear that it is now co-opted into the system and is part of the structures of control. It is the police that take NUM to address the workers. Baleni’s betrayal of the workers has made him a very rich man – a rich man who condemns and tries to suppress the struggles of the poor. It is no surprise that workers are rejecting NUM, trying to build an alternative union or acting on their own without any union representing them. The workers are right to chase the NUM leaders away from their strikes.
The Marikana Mine is the richest platinum mine in the world and yet its workers live in shacks. Most of the slain workers are rock drillers, the most difficult and dangerous work in the mine. They do the most dangerous work in the mine and yet they earn only R4 000 a month. Through the blood and sweat in the mines they do not only produce wealth that is alienated from them, they also produce the fat cats, which wine and dine on naked bodies and call that sushi.
The workers who occupied the hill came from many places including Swaziland and Mozambique. But most of them came from the rural Eastern Cape, from the former Bantustans where people live their lives as a living death under the chiefs, without work, without land and without hope. Every Rand that they win back from the capitalists is another Rand coming to the poorest part of the country. The part of the country that has been most devastated by the mines over the last century. We celebrate every Rand that the workers have taken back from the capitalists and fully support their demand of a salary of R12 500 a month. Will Baleni or Nzimande or Zuma accept R4 000 a month? If not why should anyone else?
The strikers see the NUM leaders as traitors. They delinked from the NUM because they saw that they needed to delink from the alliance of capitalists and tendepreners that run the ANC. The decision to delink was very courageous! We will have to delink in every sector if we are going to build a real movement for change.
Workers under the tripartite alliance are being sundered from socialism; they are only being encouraged to vote for the ruling party. Nothing is being done to fuse social consciousness in their struggle. They are encouraged to participate in sensational politics, the politics of who should lead and who should be removed. They are encouraged to see communities and workers that organise independently as their enemies.
It is easy to decide not to decide. It is much harder to make a decision pregnant with risk and promise. For miners to delink from the likes of Baleni and tripartite alliance was a courageous decision. They understand that courage is an important element of all struggles. They understand that there is no quick fix in the struggle for a just society, a society that will respect and uphold the rights of workers and nature, a society that will be ruled on the principle of each according to his needs. This society is based on each according to his political connections with the elite that has captured the ANC and its alliance partners.
If the strikers were protesting under the banner of the tripartite alliance they wouldn’t have been slaughtered. COSATU strikes have often been violent but their members are not shot like animals. In fact the campaigns to support Zuma in his rape and corruption trials were full of threats of violence and yet Zuma supporters were not gunned down.
Before the miners occupied the hill they made a vow that no bullet will deter them. They were willing to fight and die to get a fair share of the wealth of this mine for themselves and their families. What this demonstrates is that these were people who were aware of the risks that their decisions entailed, who thought about such risks carefully, guided by their conscience and concluded that they were willing to face the consequences that could arise.
Hellen Keller’s words ring true “There is no such thing as a complete security, and if there was what fun would life be. Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success”. She adds “To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate and adversity is strength undefeatable.”
The immense courage of the miners that gathered on Nkaneng hill was tremendous. They were prepared to take a real stand. They were prepared to face real risks. We do not see this courage amongst the left. In fact most of the left has abandoned real struggle in real communities for meetings and conferences and emails. The left has become something that NGOs run. It is about bussing poor black people into meetings that they have no control over and that are very far removed from the realities of our real struggles. It is about educating the poor and not about fighting with the poor. When real struggles happen in places like the shack settlements of Zakheleni, eTwatwa or Kennedy Road most of the left is not there. But when there is a big conference they are all there.
The ANC government has killed workers for demanding a salary increment from a notoriously exploitative and very, very rich company. The workers earn only R4000 per month doing the most dangerous work. The ANC president and cabinet ministers earn not less that R2 million per year. And on top of that there is corruption everywhere. Our politicians are part of the global elite. The lowest ANC deployee earns not less than R20 000 excluding benefits.
The Marikana mine workers lived in shacks with their families. The president of the ANC has recently built a mansion in his homestead, a mansion that cost tax payers not less than R200 million.
It is the ANC government that shoots and kills protesters when they are fighting for the assertion of their humanity. They recently killed Andries Tatane. They have killed at least 25 others on protests since 2000. If you are poor and black your life counts for nothing to the ANC.
What lesson can be learnt from the Marikana mine workers’ massacre? The ruthlessness of this government does not diminish but on contrary increases with the number of workers and unemployed who starve. They are criminalising our struggles and militarising their police. It is clear that anyone who organises outside of the ANC, in communities or in the workplace, will face serious and violent repression from the party and the police.
The NUM and the SACP have made it very clear which side that they are on. By supporting the massacre and calling for further repression against the workers they have made it quite clear that they are on the side of the ruthless alliance between capital and the politicians. They have declared, very clearly, that they support the war on the poor. Their reactions to the massacre are a total disgrace. No credible left formation in South Africa or anywhere in the world can work with the NUM or SACP again. The decision of the miners at Marikana to delink from the corrupt and ruthless politics of the alliance has been vindicated.
Things will not get better but will get worse. When the elite’s power is threatened they will respond with more and more violence. War has been declared on the poor and on anyone organising outside of the control of the ANC. We are our own liberators. We must organise and continue to build outside the ANC. We must face the realities of the situation that we confront clearly and courageously. Many more of us will be jailed and killed in the years to come.
What they have done can never be forgotten nor forgiven.
NB: today’s Morning Star gives a very different account of events, backing the NUM and accusing the AMCU (the new union) leadership of, in effect, provoking the violence and also of “collaboration” with the mining companies. As we have already stated, Shiraz Socialist does not know the truth of any of this - though it has to be said that given the Morning Star‘s record and its close links with the SACP we’re not inclined to take their word for anything.
Detailed information about the appalling police killings of 34 striking mineworkers in Marikana, South Africa, is hard to come by, especially as it seems to involve in-fighting within the ANC-affiliated COSATU union federation. Shiraz Socialist cannot vouch for the accuracy of this report (by Greg Marinovich of the Daily Maverick), but it seems to be well-informed:
Several thousand men cover the orange outcrop of igneous rock like a single organism, spilling onto the dry thorn-veld below.
They are wrapped in blankets; their spears and fighting sticks protruding menacingly as they chant songs of war.
Ten men have died around this strange geological redoubt; two of them policemen. The violent showdown between these miners and their multinational employer, the platinum giant Lonmin, shows no sign of abating.
The hill is encircled by riot police in more than a dozen armoured Nyalas that surround the hill called Wonderkop. Further down the rutted road, more than a hundred policemen from the tactical unit and a private security firm eat their supper from plastic containers. They are dressed in bulletproof vests and are armed to the teeth.
It looks like war. It is a war. A war of survival, certainly for the miners, and perhaps for the future of Rustenburg’s platinum mines too.
A few of the miners carry indecipherable cardboard signs with their demands. A man emerges from the shuffling, chanting body of men, ostensibly asking for a cigarette. Another joins him and we speak about who they are and what they want. All of Lonmin’s mine employees are out here, one claims. People of all nations and all job descriptions are here. All they want is for the lowest paid miners to get a decent wage. The rock drillers at Lonmin earn R4,000 a month, a scarred man tells me, no matter how long they have worked at the mine. They demand R12,500.
This is a massive increase of over 300%. Not surprisingly, mine management has balked, in addition to the fact that they are locked into a wage agreement that only expires next year. But surely this is the negotiating territory of the union, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), part of the massive and powerful Cosatu umbrella, which represents them in a closed shop situation. Lonmin needs a good August to meet its annual production figures in a market where the shine has most definitely gone off platinum. But its share price has dropped precipitously on the back of the strike.
Why has it all gone so wrong?
Let’s step back here. The strike was called by the rock drillers. These are the men who work right down at the rock face, who have to work with a 25kg drill that vibrates wildly for the duration of an eight-hour shift. When there is a rock fall, it is generally the drillers who are the victims, who lose fingers or lives. It is the most dangerous job in the business. They regard themselves as men amongst men. It is a sub-culture of machismo.
Throughout the underground mining industry in South Africa, the rock drillers are BaSotho from Lesotho. It is their badge of pride that they do the dirtiest, most difficult job; yet on just two platinum mines, Lonmin and Impala Platinum (Implats), it is AmaMpondo and the related lBmvana (both sub-groups of the Xhosa) who dominate.
It is no coincidence that a bitter seventeen-week strike at Implats was also led by the Mpondo/Xhosa drillers. The striking miners I spoke to said that the Implats drillers had also been earning just R4,000 a month, but now they are at R9,500.
Imagine earning R4,000 a month to risk your life deep underground for a metal that powers rich people’s cars and bejewels fingers that have never laboured. The collection of essays “In Praise of Idleness” by Bertrand Russell articulates the logic of our labours: “First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.”
A mining insider well acquainted with the platinum sector mused on the situation, on the mindset of the drillers. “Even though I belong to a union, they underrepresent my needs. My concerns are not adequately voiced, and I have no influence. Decisions never seem to benefit me.
“I am constantly violated; and have to work under subjective violence. Despite my strength, I am powerless.”
And so a familiar cycle begins – voices begin to murmur, “If we were not doing this dirty work, would any of the other better paid people in the links of mine labour be able to do theirs? If we stop; it all stops.
“If neither the union nor the employer will listen, we will make them. We will apply objective violence until they are forced to listen to our grievances…”
Hence the strike, and the walkout and the killings and the forceful police reaction that left two of their number dead and another in hospital. The miners are prepared to suffer violence until management is forced to come and talk to them. They will wait at their altar-like outcrop until they feel that they have found their lost power.
So why does the union that represents miners at Lonmin, and before that at Implats, appear not to represent this driller sub-culture?
When the 320,000-strong NUM had its election for General Secretary in 2007, the Platinum sector put forward the NUM stalwart Archie Phalane as its nominee. He would run against Frans Baleni. At the congress, just before the vote, Phalane was told he could not contest the election as he was an employee of the union, and the rules stated that he had to be an elected official. His supporters cried foul, and conspiracies abounded, but Baleni ran unopposed.
It seems straightforward enough, yet Phalane and his platinum sector supporters were seen to be sympathetic to the cause of ousted president Thabo Mbeki, and Baleni is supportive of current African National Congress leader and President Jacob Zuma. The union was behind Zuma, finish en klaar.
There was a resentment of NUM among their platinum sector members for some years, and so when, in May 2010, a NUM vice president, Piet Mathosa, came to persuade his members at Lonmin that management’s offer was a fair one, even though it fell well short of their demands, they did not respond well. A rock was thrown at him, injuring his eye so badly that he lost it, and spent weeks in hospital.
That could partly explain why NUM president Senzeni Zokwana, who refused to leave the safety of a police armoured vehicle to address the miners, was shouted down when he tried to persuade the Lonmin strikers to return to work. Which is also why the words of the AMCU official were greeted with cheers in the darkness of early evening in the straggly bush below Wonderkop. Or all of those miners were AMCU members already… No-one was saying – with good reason, as rumours of death threats swirled. That the majority of drillers are either foreign (from Lesotho) or rural, poorly educated men whose elected officials are usually smart young men from the district, whom they are slow to trust, has added to the volatile mix.
When we asked NUM what their version of the situation was, a new story emerged. On Thursday morning, Zokwana and Baleni painted an unflattering picture of both the rock drillers and AMCU. The general secretary confirmed that these men were indeed largely the least educated and literate of the employed workforce in the mines. They tend to come from the Eastern Cape and the mountains of Lesotho because the “township boys” don’t want to do the back-breaking work of rock drilling.
According to Zokwana, these uneducated rock drillers are always vulnerable to scam artists targeting the platinum industry in Limpopo and North West. He said that in some mines their retirement and death benefits as well as provident fund contributions were targeted. In Lonmin’s operations, these guys have taken the guise of a union that promises them R12,500 – which NUM adamantly says is unachievable for a rock driller.
Baleni also said that the AMCU organisers operating at the troubled Marikana mine were all expelled former leaders in NUM.
“NUM exercises discipline. It happens all the time that we expel members who form their own union. After a while, it disappears. The unique thing in this situation is the use of violence,” he said.
It is indeed a complicated business, with the platinum members of NUM having asserted their independence of their union; it was fertile ground for an upstart like AMCU to exploit this weakness, to make promises that they were unlikely to be able to deliver on. A dangerous ploy – the rock drillers seem to answer to nothing but themselves. The hard men of the underworld are determined to stay on the surface in their struggle to earn a living wage.
On Thursday afternoon, when police tried to move the miners off Wonderkop, there were clashes, apparently including shots fired at the police. The tactical unit of the police then retaliated with force which went beyond policing and into the realm of revenge. Journalists say between five and eighteen miners are dead, and many wounded.
More blood now stains the outcrop, as another sunset deepens the orange rock to red. DM
- Battle looms over NUM leadership on IOL
From the Telegraph:
Mo Farah makes history as first British man to take gold in Olympic 10000m
It will be a picture to live with British athletics for ever and a day. Mo Farah, open-mouthed, eyes bigger than saucers, banging himself on the head with both hands four times, unable to believe that he had just put the golden crown on the most fantastic day in his country’s Olympic history.
Mo Farah’s stunning victory in the European Championship 10,000 metres, his good-humoured sportsmanship and his loyalty to his friend Chris Thompson, should serve to remind us of just what a wonderful contribution refugees have made to this country. Mo came here in 1993 as a nine-year-old refugee from the war-torn hell-hole that was (and is) Mogadishu. Evidently he loves his adopted country, but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten his roots. On Tuesday night, someone in the Barcelona crowd threw him a Somaliland flag. Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 and is under threat from the fundamentalist thugs of the Islamic Courts Union.
According to the Graun, Mo would seem to be sympathetic to Somaliland and commented, “It’s part of Somalia now trying to be recognised as a republic. They’ve just got a new government. I was chucked the flag and I thought: ‘Yeah, OK.’”
(Below: from Wikipedia)
regionally known as
جمهورية أرض الصومال
Jumhūrīyat Arḍ aṣ-Ṣūmāl
Republic of Somaliland
|Motto: لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله (Arabic)
Lā ilāhā illā-llāhu; muhammadun rasūlu-llāhi (transliteration)
“There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God”And also:”Justice, Peace, Freedom, Democracy and Success for All”
|Anthem: Sama ku waar|
9°33′N 44°03′E / 9.55°N 44.05°E / 9.55; 44.05
|Official language(s)||Somali, Arabic, English|
|-||President||Ahmed M. Mahamoud Silanyo|
|Independence||from the United Kingdom & Somalia|
|-||Independence||26 June 1960|
|-||Union with Italian Somaliland as Somalia||1 July 1960|
|-||Withdrawal from Somalia||18 May 1991|
68,000 sq mi
|Currency||Somaliland shilling1 (
|Time zone||EAT (UTC+3)|
|-||Summer (DST)||not observed (UTC+3)|
|Date formats||d/m/yy (AD)|
|Drives on the||right|
|1. Currency only valid for regional purposes.
Rankings may not be available because of its unrecognised de facto state.
Mo may well be asking himself why this outpost of democracy and peace in the region remains unrecognised by the international community, including Britain. You can find out more and join the campaign for recognition of Somaliland here.
Mo’s official site is here