Little progress for South Africa′s miners | Africa | DW | 16.08.2016

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Little progress for South Africa's miners

Four years ago today, the Marikana massacre shook South Africa. Police officers shot 34 workers dead and injured 78 others during a protest. DW asked governance expert Gareth Newham what has changed since then.

DW: Why has so little changed as far as the miner's living conditions are concerned?

Gareth Newham: I think there is a number of reasons. One of them has been the reduction of mining activity in South Africa. A large number of miners have been retrenched in recent years. The profitability of these mines has declined in recent years and they have been squeezed financially to some extent. On the other hand, I think the government has not done enough to hold them accountable for the promises they've made on the basis of which they were given mining licences. They promised, for example, to build houses or improve the living conditions of the communities who provide them with labour.

So is the South African goverment evading its responsibilities?

Some would argue that this is the case. We've seen very little real progress made in terms of, for example, the government reaching a settlement with the victims or those who were killed or seriously injured in the massacre. That led to civil claims against the state for loss of earnings and income. The presidency started negotiations only at the beginning of this year and to date no progress has been made. The national commissioner of police has been suspended for her role in the massacre based on the report of the Marikana commission of inquiry. But no action has been taken against any other police official. So I think we have been very slow on the recommendations' side and there hasn't been sufficient accountability for those involved.

There hasn't been any change in police procedures? Could this perhaps happen again?

Portrait picture of Gareth Newham

ISS Analyst Gareth Newham

I don't think it will happen again. There have been changes in policing. For example, they elevated the head of our public order policing unit to a major-general. So it's a much more senior person who now oversees operations. They are recruiting and training many more officers, so that they have sufficient public order police officials to respond to large gatherings.

You may recall that there were not enough public order policing officials at Marikana, so other units, which were normally more involved in high-risk policing, were brought in. They were the ones who led to the shooting of 112 mine workers. So there are moves to bolster the capacity of the public order police units, so that there will not be a need to bring in untrained high-risk units, who are more likely to use lethal force. So there have been real changes since then, but it has been four years and we have not seen much movement on many recommendations until today.

In recent municipal elections in South Africa, the ANC suffered heavy losses, the DA made some gains and the Economic Freedom Fighters also made some gains. Have the miners changed their political allegiance?

Yes, that was quite evident after the massacre. We saw the National Union of Mine Workers collapsing in the platinum belt. It is an affiliate of the Central Union of South African Trade Unions, an alliance partner of the ruling African National Congress. Most of their supporters left and moved to an independent union. We also saw quite a big reduction in voting for the African National Congress in the municipal elections around Marikana and Rustenburg area. So that certainly did have an impact on people's political insights and support. People in this area mostly blame the government and the police for what happened and that too little is being done to improve their living conditions since then.

Gareth Newham is the head of the Governance, Crime and Justice Division at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa's capital Pretoria.

Interview: Mark Caldwell

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