Who wants to dwell on Marikana? Certainly not some of our insensitive politicians

A lesson in HR? Those gathered to mourn the dead Marikana miners this week would disagree. (Photo: Delwyn Verasamy)

A lesson in HR? Those gathered to mourn the dead Marikana miners this week would disagree. (Photo: Delwyn Verasamy)

This week saw an important anniversary in our country’s history. I am referring, of course, to August 16 1997, when Bafana Bafana beat the national football team of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.

It was Philemon Masinga who took the country to victory with his solitary goal. What a day that was! But not unparalleled in historical significance, it must be acknowledged.

On the same date 73 years earlier, the first listener’s radio licence in South Africa was issued.
That’s right: listeners to radio in 1924 paid licence fees, and all they got in exchange was access to some white okes’ voices crackling over the airwaves. They didn’t even receive free funeral cover, which, in a move beyond parody, the SABC now offers the handful of South Africans who pay their fees.

So all in all, August 16 has been a weighty day for our nation.

There was also the violent action four years ago when police gunned down 34 striking miners at Marikana, but who wants to dwell on that? Certainly not the Democratic Alliance-run City of Cape Town, which saw to it that a number of white crosses erected on the Sea Point Promenade to mark the day were whipped out prestissimo lest passing tourists start asking awkward questions about the meaning of the impromptu graveyard. Nothing like the mass extermination of workers to put you off your Bellinis on a sunny morning.

Who wants to dwell on Marikana? Certainly not the Freedom Front Plus, which allowed the day to pass without an official peep on the matter, despite their usual willingness to spam South African journalists’ mailboxes with statements on anything that pops into their heads. Perhaps they were too busy engaging in horse trading over the local government election results. The FF+ had an unfair advantage when it came to coalition negotiations with other parties, on account of having actual horses to trade.

Who wants to dwell on Marikana? Certainly not the ANC, which released its second most outrageous statement on the massacre on its Twitter account on Tuesday. “We call on all South Africans to draw lessons from Marikana about the importance of peaceful resolutions to conflicts in the workplace,” the party of liberation tweeted.

Let’s pause on that for a second, to remind ourselves of the first most outrageous statement on the massacre made by the ANC. That was in November 2015, when Miners Shot Down won an Emmy award for best documentary.

“The ANC extends its compliments to all cast members of the documentary for their hard work and determination, which resulted [in] this achievement,” party spokesperson Zizi Kodwa announced.

Word had seemingly not reached Luthuli House that the majority of “cast members” of Miners Shot Down were in no condition to accept the ANC’s congratulations.

But back to this week’s tweet. The ANC apparently thinks, in all seriousness, that the Marikana massacre is a teachable moment about workplace human resources practices. If you must speak out about the need for a living wage, it would be helpful to the ANC if you could do so in as civilised a fashion as possible. A handwritten note to your bosses is a nice touch, for instance, in which you could lay out your inconvenient and easily ignored request to be paid enough to buy food. If you don’t hear back immediately, or ever, bear in mind that being a chief executive involves countless pressures of which you know nothing.

Above all, if you’re dealing with a multinational mining corporation, it is important that you maintain awareness that your piffling labour dispute is bigger than you. If your gnawing hunger should lead you to consider downing tools, look around. You’re in a country with 40% unemployment. How much do you really need that daily meal? Besides, keeping trim will enable you to access crevices that other rock drillers just can’t manage.

Let’s say you’ve done some mental equations and come to the conclusion that you can’t resist yakking about your far-fetched dreams of a salary on which you can feed your child. The ANC hopes you will remember that “strike” is not a nice word. It is an ubuntu-free word. It does not build the nation. Foreign investors don’t like it. Can you blame an employer for lashing out if you take this route? No.

But employers, the ANC wishes you to know: the temptation to murder disgruntled workers instead of attending to their grievances should be resisted as often as possible.

Workers can uphold their end of the bargain by avoiding being shot in the back by security forces. Running into bullets is a short-term solution to industrial disputes. Not to mention selfish: inducing your death in this manner will see to it that your employer is stuck fielding time-consuming queries about the “consequences” of your “massacre” at least once a year until everyone forgets about it. 

Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Davis has a master’s in English literature from Rhodes and a master’s in linguistics from Oxford University, UK. After a stint at the Oxford English Dictionary, she returned to South Africa, where she has been writing stories and columns for various publications, including the M&G. Her first book, Best White (And Other Anxious Delusions), came out in 2015. Read more from Rebecca Davis

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