ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Marikana Massacre

South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Dissensus

The Marikana Massacre

The story of the Marikana workers' strife in South Africa suggests that the "migrant worker" is inadequately theorised as a political subject today. A more appropriate theorisation requires us to think more concretely about the migrant worker as the embodiment of indirect rule and apartheid, and not only as the archetypical fi gure of capitalism with fetters, or a consciousness waiting to be sublimated through socialist revolution.

It is now more than one year since 34 mineworkers were killed at a mine in the town of Marikana in South Africa’s famed platinum belt on 16 August 2012. Neither the ruling party, nor the government sent any official representation to the first commemoration of this massacre. In a country that often tells its history as the history of massacres from Sharpeville to Soweto, these non-gestures matter. Marikana symbolises a new struggle of memory and memorialisation that contests the claims of a triumphant national liberation movement to solely represent suffering. We can now make a distinction between an official massacre – one that will be recognised, and a subaltern massacre.

On the face of it, the violence at Marikana between two unions – the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and the younger Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, signals three moments of “dissensus”. The first is a breakdown in the post-apartheid social contract between the state, labour and capital. This contract has been held together politically by an agreement between the tripartite alliance of the African National Congress (ANC), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Secondly, it signals the unravelling of the dominant strategy of union organising in South Africa, historically framed as a choice between “political unionism” and “shop floor” unionism. And the thirdly, it recalls a dissensus in the scholarship on labour studies in South Africa. It interrupts the desire in much of this scholarship for a revolutionary worker subject that is fully universal without the particularities of race or ethnicity. In this article I elaborate how these three ruptures are interrelated and the questions they raise for a “post-apartheid South Africa”.

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