South African Miners Protest Magnify Country’s Struggle with Wealth Distribution

When the white South African regime brokered deals with jailed leader Nelson Mandela prior to Mandela’s release in the 1990s, there were several agreements that were made regarding wealth distribution in the severely Apartheid torn nation. It was a deal that Winnie Mandela is still, openly hypercritical towards because it left majority of South Africa, a largely black nation, dependent on whites to dictate wealth, and has played in the continual destabilization of the African National Congress. Resultantly, it were the terms of that complex agreement that are directly tied to the miners protest on August 16, 2012. Mandela agreed to terms that shifted much of the political power to blacks, yet the economic power stayed in the hands of whites, hence the mines and multinational, long standing corporations are all  white owned in South Africa.

Another aspect of the agreement were that white government workers who did not want to work alongside blacks in federal jobs could retire with a pension for life immediately. As a result, South Africa has to fork over a chunk of its budget to a pension system that pays whites who retired from work as early as 18 years old.

Although South Africa is rich in minerals and natural resources that could balance the budget and create more wealth, the white domination, white privatization and control of the money flow has made it difficult for the upward mobility of a majority black population and increased enhancement of South Africa’s infrastructure that is dire need of a better public education and hospitals.

Whites have privatized much of their existence. Schools, hospitals, neighborhoods and businesses are in the hands of whites who were in staunch support of Apartheid. Unfortunately, when Apartheid was dismantled, their worldview did not switch; yet whites have reaped all of the rewards from the ending of the sanctions, boycotts and embargoes against South African countries during the Apartheid regime.

Today, South Africa has progressed politically, yet the wealth distribution has created bigger gaps in the haves and have-nots. Miners have not received proper increase of pay, health plans or sustainable living benefits for their families.

As well, a large sector of the labor, which is still in mining, receives pittance wages, but these mines have not been regulated for the gross environmental damage they have caused to towns who live close to the mountains of unearthed dirt that blow toxic soil on windy days, along with other issues.

What the miners of Lonmin were protesting were an increase of wages from about US $600 to $1500 a month. The average day for a miner is 15 hours underground with shadey safety conditions. Most miners still work in conditions where they are separated from wives and families who live in the rural area.


Striking mine workers sing protest songs and march in a wide circle under the watchful eye of police at he Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. Thirty-four strikers were shot dead by police in a three-minute barrage of automatic gunfire last week that also injured 78 others. The incident traumatized a nation that thought it had seen the last of state violence with the end of apartheid in 1994.Ten other people were killed the week before, including two police officers hacked to death with machetes by strikers who also burned alive two mine security guards. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

Lonmin is the third largest platinum mine in the world, and has been refusing to budge in the wage increase like other local mines who have responded to the national debate regarding the mines being privatized. More importantly, the now suspended ANC Youth League leader  Julius Malema was demanding that South African government nationalize the mines to bring wealth to the people rather than keep it in the hands of few.

For example, the resettlement plan of South Africa that gives land and homes to South Africans who once lived in Shanty towns, or were ripped from their homelands, is an iniative of wealth redistribution.

Nonetheless, the gap that has widened between white wealth and black poverty, added by growing costs of living in South Africa are making the average black South African anxious and disappointed. Add to the that, the ANC is weakening from within, which further makes governing and staying in power more diffcult.

Yet the cold truth is emerging amongst black South Africans through their controversial, and ineffective head-of-state, black power without black wealth is only a mere puppet to the highest bidder.

The protest that occured and the cold response by Lonmin executives is a reminder that the past is not far away, and that the past is the current. The racist, color-stratified, white racist regime is alive and kcking.

African Americans gawked at how black police officers were involved in killing their own black countrymen, but those of us who understand oppression know that all to often the oppress perpetuate their oppression better than their oppressors.

South Africa is much like the US in its racial politics and issues. Just because Obama is president and South Africa has black presidents and Mandela has been free for over 20 years, does not make any two of the countries post-racial.

Just like an ordinary day in New York, Chicago, New Orleans or Los Angeles. As Zora Neale Hurston prophetically said, ‘Your skin folk ain’t [always] your kinfolk.’

Those black officers probably really believe they were doing what was right along with white officers who are paid a little more than the miners.

Both are still perpetuating the residuls of a white South African regime that suppresses black enfranchisement, and protect white wealth.