South Africa is on the verge of a massive uprising, as former African National Congress youth leader Julius Malema continues to push for striking miners to stop production at the mines to cripple the billion-dollar companies that have long exploited their labour for slave wages. He has now turned his attention to the nation’s military, where he says soldiers are calling on him to help them fight their poor working conditions.
Much of the unrest centers around a growing sense that the country’s Black leadership is too beholden to the interests of White-owned profit-driven business interests to truly advocate for the poor. Workers at the gold and platinum mines have been pushing for months for a tripling of their wages to $1,560, claiming that they are unable to support their families on their meager earnings.
The tension has escalated dramatically after South African police killed 34 and wounded 78 striking miners in a shocking massacre last month. Two platinum and gold mines have already halted production and Malema is calling on the miners to force all the nation’s mines to shut down. In the midst of the unrest, more violence is rearing its head—journalists yesterday found the body of another murdered man at the Marikana mine in a spot near a granite hill where police said strikers normally gather. Thus far 45 people have been killed, including 10 people killed before the police shootings—two police officers were hacked to death by strikers, two mine security guards were burned alive in their car and six shop stewards of the National Union of Mineworkers were killed.
At Marikana, the striking miners are threatening anyone who goes to work, leading Lonmin to issue a statement saying that just 3 percent of workers had shown up.
“Lonmin condemns the ongoing intimidation and threats to life and property,” the London-registered company said. “The continuing efforts of a minority to keep the mine closed through threats of violence now pose a real and significant threat to jobs.”
Speaking to strikers at a gold mine near Driefontein, Malema urged the miners to bring the mining industry to its knees and force the removal of the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers, which he has accused of being cozy with the power elite including South African President Jacob Zuma, Malema.
“There must be a national strike,” Malema said. “They have been stealing this gold from you. Now it is your turn. You want your piece of gold. These people are making billions from these mines.”
Malema was cheered by thousands of strikers at a soccer field at the Gold Fields International’s KDC gold mine. He led the miners in chants of “Kill the boer,” which was a song Blacks sang in reference to those that stole their land during apartheid. Malema was expelled from the ruling African National Congress earlier this year for not following the orders of party leaders.
Malema’s entreaties to the South African military has the nation’s leadership especially worried.
Malema said he would talk to the soldiers after listening to their “cries and demands,” a statement by the Friends of the ANC Youth League said yesterday.
Malema’s spokesman, Floyd Shivambu, said, “The meeting is as a result of the pleas and requests the armed forces—soldiers of the SANDF—sent to Malema to come listen to and voice the military and soldiers’ cries and demands. For a considerable amount of time now, South Africa’s important component of its defence force has been marginalised and threatened with dismissal whenever they raised concerns about conditions of work.”
The nation’s Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans considers Malema’s actions to be incitement.
“The military is a non-partisan organisation. This is being viewed as incitement, which is a criminal offence. It will be treated as such,” said Defence Ministry spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini.
Dlamini said all bases had been placed on “high alert,” a first for the nation’s military.
“The situation is being monitored. We cannot elaborate. Directives have been issued to base commanders and certain steps are being taken,” he said.