Editorial: Disquieting lack of leadership
Back in 1994 when Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging members were killed in cold blood in what was then Bophuthatswana, SA collectively held its breath.
Two years earlier, 28 people had died attempting to march on Bhisho when Ciskei Defence force soldiers opened fire on them.
We had signed up for the new South Africa, but with wounded people being shot dead in cold blood, it all felt more than a bit uncertain.
Fast forward to 2012 and marauding miners have been shot in what is now North West province. Some 44 people have been killed, many by the police. Chillingly, evidence grows by the day that many of the dead may have been shot in the back or murdered at close range, possibly by the very people entrusted with keeping law and order.
In this climate, rebel miners are continuing their wildcat strike – now with the added claimed injury that their brothers have been murdered by the state. Expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema has shown his true colours: taking the mantle of anarchist, stoking fury and doing his best to incite revolution.
Business leaders, at best, remain on the sidelines and getting Lonmin to take the public into its confidence remains as difficult as ever. It claims it cannot speak freely because some requested information is market-sensitive, even while it plays host to an unfolding, slow-motion train wreck.
But analysts who watch the company closely reckon that it is running out of options and may, as soon as this week, have to start closing some of its key shafts. The wildcat strikers want R12 500 a month for their back-breaking labours, whereas Lonmin says that the closure of its operations could jeopardise 40000 jobs.
The government, led by the department of labour, is trying to broker a peace accord between representatives of the strikers and the National Union of Mineworkers on the one hand and Lonmin on the other, but two weeks later the news suggests little to no progress.
Lonmin wants the workers back before it will talk wages; the strikers say they will only come back once it is agreed they will get R12500.
Critics of President Jacob Zuma have seen his appointments at the National Prosecuting Authority to be little more than an attempt to ensure that, in the longer term, he stays out of jail from corruption charges arising out of his relationship with convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik. You have to think they are right.
The NPA has been so inept in its handling of the charging of the Marikana miners with the murder of their colleagues that it would laughable if the associated events were not so tragic.
We have separate investigations by the police, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, which investigates the behaviour of the police and, who knows, perhaps the NPA. Zuma has also set up a judicial commission of inquiry, which is required to report within four months on the massacre and associated events.
But the allegations coming out of a rocky outcrop near Wonderkop, where many of the miners are alleged to have been brutally killed by police, are so disturbing – containing as they do a vision of a police force gone mad – that urgent steps are needed to reassure the public that the government is still in charge.
We cannot wait for four months to know this. It might require the commission to make some urgent interim findings, or for the police to detail what happened and when.
A convincing explanation
This will require much more than top cop Riah Phiyega pitching up at a press conference in a new police uniform to say the police were acting in self-defence.
We need a convincing explanation for why the allegations that some policemen turned into murderous thugs of the kind associated with apartheid hit squads are untrue.
Alternatively, we need arrests and suspensions.
As tumultuous and disconcerting as these events are, what is truly remarkable is that, according to Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, Marikana was not even an agenda item at this week's Cabinet meeting. What on earth could they talk about if it was not about Marikana?
Some of the events alleged to have happened at Marikana are disturbingly similar to the 1994 roadside killings not too far away in Bophuthatswana.
But there is a huge difference, which gave us confidence then where it is lacking now. The difference is leadership. In 1994, our leaders, be they political, business or labour, inspired us as they fashioned the way forward.
Now they are conspicuous by their absence.
To notice this does not mean reducing the violence to a symptom of ANC electoral battles, or deferring the need for a response to the real problems of inequality and poverty that it highlights. Those require, as, speaker after high-profile speaker told the Carnegie III conference at the University of Cape Town this week, deep and systemic attention.
We do not need a charismatic authoritarian to weld us together under a nationalist flag, or a singer of lullabies to urge us to find unity in diversity.
But we urgently need a sense that South Africa is more than the sum of its divisions – racial, financial or factional – and that we know, for all of our manifold difficulties, where we are going.
The more we drift, the wider yawns the opportunity gap for demagogues, and once it is filled the problem of the leadership we get may well be worse than the leadership we do not have.