They have been burying the miners shot by the South African police at the platinum mine of Marikana. This is no merely local conflict. A Pandora's box has been opened, which threatens the peace established when Nelson Mandela assumed the presidency in 1994. His heirs in the African National Congress (ANC) party are losing credibility.
When I think of South Africa I think of Mexico, and of George Orwell. The Mexican connection, in fact, occurred to me a few months after Mandela won his first elections, when I was asked to play devil's advocate and write a negative vision of what might happen. I said I feared that the ANC might go the way of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed Mexico for 70 years after the revolution there.
The PRI abounded in progressive rhetoric, the defense of the masses and so on, but its real raison d'être was to perpetuate an elite in privilege and power. The "perfect dictatorship," as Mario Vargas Llosa called it, was a coalition between the dominant party, the unions, the employers and other social forces, stiffened by the police.
I seem to have guessed right. Mexico gained stability at the cost of corruption and social injustice. In South Africa, after 18 years, something similar has happened. As in Orwell's parable Animal Farm, the black revolutionaries of apartheid times have supplanted the white masters, whose only instrument of persuasion against the black majority was force.
The poor see how those in the ANC-union system live in nice houses, and drive a new Mercedes
Fortunately Mandela, at 94, is no longer aware of very much that goes on around him. The trouble at Marikana (only one of many incidents throughout the country) shows the spreading frustration against established power. In this case, the frustration arises from the all-too-apparent complicity between the mining company Lonmin and the National Union of Miners (NUM). The miners saw the NUM was no longer defending their interests, and formed Amcu, a more visceral organization lacking in plans or ideology, but expressing the feelings of many miners. It was on striking Amcu miners that the police fired.
The miners' rage, which also caused the machete deaths of two policemen, proceeds not just from the poverty of their wages in the absolute sense, but from the fact that the NUM bosses, comparatively, live like kings. The NUM president, for example, makes 25 times as much per month as the miners who joined Amcu. When he showed up at Marikana he preferred, with reason, not to emerge from the police car that brought him there.
The leaders of the NUM, like those of other unions that 20 or 30 years ago were in the vanguard of the fight against apartheid, and those of the ANC with whom they are intimately allied, have turned bourgeois. They now belong to a different species of animal, a predatory species that divvies up the pie of wealth among its own kind. One prime example is Cyril Ramaphosa, founder of the NUM, chief negotiator of the ANC during the transition to democracy, and now a magnate whose fortune is measured in hundreds of millions.
As in Mexico under the PRI, the general elections are insignificant in determining the identity of future presidents and ministers. The internal caucuses of the ANC are where it all happens. A narrow group of politicians, union bosses and new-rich entrepreneurs, all black, are all-powerful.
The people in the shack towns see how people plugged into the ANC-union system live in nice houses, and drive a new Mercedes. Public money goes into their pockets, rather than into water, education and healthcare for the voters.
So what will happen? Well, the ANC will surely be astute enough to co-opt, that is, buy, the rebels, rather than just shooting them. Secondly, the ANC may mend its ways and go back to being a "servant of the people," even if this means doing without the Mercedes. The massacre at Marikana is like a heart attack that you survive, but which tells you to change your bad habits.