It has created fertile ground for Mangaung battles.
The strained relationship between the mineworkers, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and, by extension, the ANC, created a vacuum that expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema sought to fill this week.
Malema, suspended youth league secretary general Sindiso Magaqa and league spokesperson Floyd Shivambu have been in Marikana with the miners since Friday last week. They arranged legal representation for the 259 miners who were arrested and joined the workers in laying charges of murder against the police.
But Malema denied that he was on a personal and anti-Zuma crusade, using the tragedy for his own political agenda.
"I can't sit back while my people are being killed and pretend as if it is not happening," he said this week. "I have an obligation to intervene and raise the plight of those who are abused by the state.
"There was a political vacuum and we occupied that space. If we failed to do that, the wrong elements would have taken that space. We took it while the [ANC] leadership was indoors speaking to themselves."
But Malema's allies said that their work on the ground was part of a concerted strategy to undermine Zuma's leadership. Malesa said "President Jacob Zuma has a problem of thinking capacity. It's a serious limitation. He is a man of afterthoughts. He thinks very slowly. It took him the whole week to think of visiting the workers – a whole week. Another president would have been there that day and taken action."
Zuma also sought to display a deep level of concern and urgency. He cancelled several appointments and visited the area twice in a week. He cut short his trip to the Southern African Development Community conference in Mozambique, announced the establishment of a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the shootings and sent senior Cabinet members to assist the families of the slain miners.
But he took flak for visiting the miners only on Wednesday, six days after the massacre. Miners told Zuma that Malema was the only leader who came immediately to assist them, despite them having voted Zuma into power.
After his visit to Marikana on Wednesday, Zuma told the ANC's centenary lecture in Mafikeng later that day: "I have now listened to all sides, but I will not judge the incidents."
Marikana is near Rustenburg, which is part of the ANC's largest and most influential region in North West. There is a power struggle over control of the region between ANC provincial secretary Kabelo Mataboge, a vocal supporter of Malema and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, and a camp led by ANC chairperson Supra Mahumapelo, who are firm backers of Zuma.
The leadership battle and bitter infighting has also spilled over into unions affiliated to Cosatu, including the NUM.
Workers in the province said this week the events that transpired were inevitable. They complained that the ANC leadership in the province had failed to provide them with support. Service delivery is practically nonexistent and development stagnant. Many expressed concerns that the union and ANC leadership were more concerned about the interests of Lonmin than the workers'.
"We know that NUM leaders benefit from mining operations," said a worker who did want not to be named. "We don't trust them and we don't trust the ANC. The ANC and the NUM is the same thing because of the alliance between Cosatu, ANC and SACP [South African Communist Party]."
This week, senior ANC leaders conceded that the party was losing touch with its grassroots supporters. ANC national executive committee member Collins Chabane said: "There is a feeling among comrades that we are growing distant from the people. But it must be taken into context.
"What is the ANC? It's made up of various leaders in different levels and we can't micro-manage every single branch. We know it's not up to scratch."