Marikana: undermining the ANC?

October 18, 2012

By Tom Meade

"This is merely the worst, the most brutal, the most bloody of thousands of so called ‘unrest incidents’ we’ve had around the country. We have them on an almost daily basis."

Cape Town based journalist and political commentator Terry Bell set the tone at last night’s insightful discussion of the Marikana massacre and South African politics today. The talk’s key focus was not ‘what happened?’, or ‘why?’, but ‘what next?’.

The chair for the evening, Royal African Society director Richard Dowden, was joined by an expert panel, the discussion ranged from ANC corruption and economic issues, to 2024 political forecasts.

Audrey Brown, BBC producer and presenter interviewed the National Union of Mine Workers’ spokesperson, Lesiba Seshoka, following the massacre, and was shocked by his response:

"’Well the police sent out a very strong signal to these people – we will not be held to ransom, there will be no disorder.’ The response was just astonishing. The National Union of Mine Workers is meant to represent and protect these workers."

Andrew Feinstein, a former ANC MP who left the party following a public spat with Thabo Mbeki surrounding a $10 billion arms deal, took the discussion further:

"Our new Commissioner of the Police made this statement very soon after the tragedy happened, that ‘the police had nothing to apologise for.’"

Moving away from the specifics of the massacre and its precursors, Feinstein gave an impassioned insight into the ANC ‘s interior:

"Mbeki had a degree of technocratic competence… there was the sense of the building of a government…which during the Zuma administration has just collapsed. And, I would characterise the Zuma administration as one of serial ineptitude."

Jonny Steinberg, acclaimed author and lecturer in African Studies at Oxford University, gave a damning indictment of the ANC’s future prospects.

"Currently poor black South Africans vote at a greater rate than the apathetic middle class. The post-Marikana political scene will see a swing between poor, predominantly black voters, and the wealthier middle class – who will return to the poles, voting against the ANC."

"Very little is going to change in the short term, but a great deal will change in the medium term." Steinberg said. "By 2019 or 2024 we may see the end of one party movement in South Africa and an era of coalition party politics."

Natznet Tesfay, head of Africa forecasting at Exclusive Analysis Ltd, commented on the threat of contagion of strikes to sectors that appear unrelated.

"These economic problems, combined with the perception that President Zuma is already in position to win re-election as ANC party leader, continue to undermine the party’s dominant position."

Predictably, Julius Malema‘s name arose in discussion. Steinberg and Feinstein held he was not a long term political player, while Tesfay added:

"Malema himself has become an indicator…within a couple of days of his arrival [at a mining site] or his contacting them, there is a strike. So he is providing some kind of incitement and that needs to be recognised."

Ultimately the panel highlighted the ANC’s increasingly embattled position when fielding audience questions on Malema, economic issues and corruption, which Bell described as:

"People in one another’s pockets but much more subtly than with bribes."

Feinstein added:

"I think the way in which money percolates between the mining houses, or companies in general, and the political class happens between a variety of formal and informal mechanisms, but that it is happening, there is absolutely no doubt."

Watch the event here: