Support for Malema thrives in the fertile political soil of Marikana

This will happen the day after the first anniversary of what many people see as one of the darkest days in recent South African history, when police shot 34 striking workers at the platinum mine

The ANC office in the informal settlement of Nkanini in Marikana is built with shimmering sheets of corrugated iron like most of the new shacks in the area, which is near Lonmin's Western Platinum ­operation.

What sets it apart from other buildings in Nkanini is an inscription, in ANC colours, celebrating the organisation's centenary and, although workers clad in the orange extended public works programme overalls keep the dry, patchy grass around it clean, its doors and windows stay shut.

I ask one of the workers – an ANC member – how things have changed for the party since August last year, when the Marikana massacre took place.

"It's not safe here in Nkanini," she says. "There has been a change. People don't want to see Zuma T-shirts. People say, 'He killed us; we don't want the ANC.'  Before the strike, you could wear your ANC T-shirt in peace.

"But then I haven't heard what organisation they do want. I don't know if T-shirts are a gauge but people are wearing UDM [United Democratic Movement] T-shirts."

Marikana launch preparations
Inside a hair salon diagonally across the road from the office, a woman combs the hair of a customer. Colourful hair extensions hang from the walls and several mineworkers lounge on the couches, passing around quarts of beer.

In Wonderkop, several represent­atives of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are making preparations for the party's August 17 launch in the area.

In Nkanini, workers are prepared to talk politics but only anony­mously. "I no longer support the ANC because of what happened on August 16," says a rock driller dressed in a black golf shirt and shorts. "I work here at Lonmin; I was there on the mountain but I ran away."

Generally, workers are still noncommittal about who they will vote for in next year's election.

"It depends. I don't really see another option," says a Mpondo-speaking worker in a striped jersey and jeans. "We'll see when it's voting time. You must remember, everybody came to us: the United Democratic Movement,  the Democratic Alliance, Inkatha Freedom Party. Even  Julius Malema came to us in Pretoria [when the injured miners launched an application for state funding in the North Gauteng High Court last week]."

"We want to hear what Malema has to say to us as mineworkers," he says. "After the strike, there were some things that he tried to do. Like the lawyers we have now [at the Marikana inquiry], it's because of him. When he came to the stadium [after the massacre], the police prevented him. And I'm sure he wasn't coming with bad news."

Asked whether he would vote for the EFF, another worker in the group says: "It could be. We'll have to hear what he says first. But my X is no longer with the ANC and I'm talking about mineworkers and their families in the Eastern Cape."

Although Lonmin might be the epicentre of discontent, similar sentiments were expressed by Impala workers as early as September last year. Charges of fraud and money laundering and the threat of sedition charges when Malema tried to speak to mineworkers created a perception that he was being persecuted.

In parts of North West's Bojanala district, especially in wards run by independent councillors, communities are already being canvassed to join the ranks of the EFF.  

'When we take over'
Israel Monaise, a "convener" for the EFF in Rustenburg, is holding court in a school courtyard in Lethabong, a remote community about 90km east of the city. The area is part of its ward 28, one of the city's three wards held by independents, which was won by former ANC Youth League chairperson Paki Molatlhegi.

"When we take over, we'll open a national bank," Monaise tells the mostly young crowd. "That's where our civil servants will get paid.

"When you apply for a loan, if Standard Bank says 15% interest, we'll say 12%. If they say 10, we'll say five. We'll be watching them, comrades."

A woman in the crowd, perhaps in her late 30s, corrects him: "We're not comrades, we're fighters."

"Yes, we're fighters," says a delighted Monaise.

'Do it yourself'
Monaise, clad in jeans and a fleece top, appears to be in his late 20s. He displays an easy wit when he talks about the community's immediate problems (jobs, the need for title deeds, and faulty meter readings) before segueing into the EFF's broad take on nationalisation.

"Before the ANC was saying 'a better life for all', then they said 'together we can do more', but now, they are saying 'vuk'uzenzele' [do it yourself]," he says to scattered laughter.

He repeats it during a session of proselytising in one of the school's classrooms. Monaise is joined by Molatlhegi and the ward 33 councillor and a former youth league member, Michael Mofokeng, plus other former youth league members,  such as the former regional executive committee member, Tshidi Masedi, and the former ward 27 youth league chairperson, Kaizer Moemi.   

Mofokeng, who recently was being cautious about his political future and pleading for the ANC's secretary general Gwede Mantashe to visit the independent wards to resolve issues arising from candidacy disputes, is now emboldened.

"We're not hiding ourselves any more," he says. "We want to be exposed as soon as possible."

I ask Molatlhegi why Rustenburg's independents, with the exception of ward 25, have decided to support the EFF.

'The people's choice'
Clad in a red beret marked EFF, Molatlhegi adjusts his trenchcoat and says: "Well, it's the political ideology of economic freedom. It is what I preached as a chair of the youth league here.

"When you're an independent candidate, you're the people's choice, you're not the candidate of a political movement. As the people of ward 28, we needed a political home. And, because we agree with economic freedom, we've found ourselves a political home at last."

But a random survey of some residents at the meeting revealed that some were still scratching their heads about the EFF.  

Molatlhegi says they have been "engaging" with comrades from different mines. "Even today, I was at Lonmin because we want to hold our national rally in Marikana. They are feeling so good about the EFF, they can't wait to get forms, berets and T-shirts."

But, although Malema's movement is gaining traction, there is unlikely to be an organic joining of hands between former youth league members and mineworkers, says Devan Pillay, a sociologist and political analyst at the University of the Witwatersrand.  

"The EFF still has to prove itself as a political party before Amcu [the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union] throws its lot [in] with them.

"Some prominent individuals might align with the EFF as it has happened with [the union federation] Nactu in the past. But there are others. Wasp [Workers and Socialist Party] has aligned with miners, Holomisa's party is aligned with workers.

"All these parties want to manoeuvre and the UDM won't sit back with such an opportunity presenting itself because, for many workers, disgruntlement with the NUM [National Union of Mineworkers] has meant disgruntlement with the ANC."

'Ethnic grounds'
The African People's Convention also has a presence among the workers. Its leader, Themba Godi, has dismissed the UDM leader Bantu Holo­misa as having nothing to offer ideologically and "campaigning on ethnic grounds".

Pillay says: "Holomisa doesn't go as far as nationalisation but he does appeal in terms of service delivery, which can improve people's lives."

Whether nationalisation will capture the workers' imagination or not is an open question. "There are some workers with political education but nationalisation in the EFF's sense means the elites taking over. I'm not sure whether a public debate on that issue will appeal to them.

"The issue of land might be more appealing to workers," he says. "The EFF is not from the working class in that sense. They are drawn from the youth and they have no strong footing in the union movement.

"Wasp's articulation of nationalisation is more thought through. The EFF says the state must take over, which can be worse than private ownership."

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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