Sunday 18 August 2013

Our dream will survive Marikana

This is the Sunday Independent opinion column from 18 August 2013

Our horror derives from our belief that such things should never happen in the new South Africa, says Thabo Makgoba.

Cape Town - ‘Where were you when you heard about…?” Different generations are marked by how they complete the sentence: Sharpeville, the assassination of President John F Kennedy or of Martin Luther King, the moon landing, the unbanning of political parties, Nelson Mandela’s release, 9/11. But there can hardly be any South African who was untouched by the traumatic scenes at Marikana a year ago. The whole nation was rocked to its core. Surely this is a thing of the past, we said. Surely this cannot happen in the new South Africa. But it did. And where are we now, a year on?

I believe we must acknowledge that we have not done all that we could or should have in response to the terrible tragedy, both for those directly concerned and for the life of the nation and our sense of who we are, as South Africans, and who we want to become.

Anglicans have been engaged on various levels. I have visited Marikana, and contributed to the memorial service. Other clergy have been involved. Bishop Jo Seoka of Pretoria was trying to bring mediation at the time of the shootings, gave evidence to the commission headed by Judge Ian Farlam (himself a faithful Anglican), and continues to be active, including in his role as president of the SA Council of Churches. Through the council and with other partners, we have offered assistance, especially spiritually, wherever we can. We have tried to bring pastoral care to the bereaved, injured and traumatised. We have also distributed food parcels, clothes and other material help – some of which was given by generous donors from outside our churches. We have aimed to walk with all those affected, and to support processes which promote healing and wholeness, further justice, and create new and better future realities.

But despite the hard work, dedication and perseverance of many, we are a long way short of where we would like to be. We have so far failed in pressing the government to fund the lawyers representing the families of the dead miners at the Farlam Commission. We could have worked harder to promote a national climate in which all of us share a broad consensus that encourages more widespread and urgent action, and not only in Marikana. For it seems we have fallen into complacency. Too many reports of violence of one sort or another on our televisions have numbed us to the enormity of what happened at Marikana. We have become spectators of the Farlam Commission, watching as distanced onlookers.

It is not just that those at Lonmin – employers, unions, police, and other involved parties – need to act. While there were particular complexities and tensions around last year’s events, they were the tip of a vast iceberg that extends across our nation. Issues of pay and conditions, living environments, union rivalries, labour brokers, old employment patterns for local and migrant workers (and their families) that may no longer suit today’s circumstances, tensions with police, loan sharks… these issues and more besides surface in different guises around the country. Many of us are touched, and far more of us should act. This range of longstanding, underlying, running sores within the wider mining sector and across so many other industries is only exacerbated by time.

There are clear lessons that can already be learnt from Marikana, and acted upon. There are simple win-win actions that would benefit everyone involved. One example is ensuring workers are educated in the basics of managing their finances, of understanding how to read their pay slips, of grasping the dangers of loan sharks and being wise to more sensible options, and of knowing what are the best courses of action should they fall into debt.

Another area that concerns me is of companies and individuals who pursue social responsibility and philanthropic programmes without first putting their own houses in order. Too many of these programmes address the symptoms of poverty rather than the causes. Ensuring decent, living wages and working conditions should be a far higher priority. Wage increases in line with inflation are justifiable only if they start from a baseline of just and fair remuneration – whereas we know that we inherited from the past some vastly skewed inequalities within the employment sector.

Honest, open debate – with egos put to one side – must always take precedence over violence. People’s lives and their basic needs must be put before profits, before politics, before power, before inter-union rivalries, before arguments over hierarchies of guilt and innocence.

Yet, I’m not without hope. For the shock waves which ran through the nation should actually be a reassurance that we have assumed a better life for all. Our horror derives from our belief that such things should never happen in the new South Africa. So we should take heart that the vision of 1994 still burns within us, and we should all keep fanning this flame. The transition to political and economic emancipation was never going to be easy.

This is a month for dreaming. August 28 sees the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington, when Martin Luther King delivered his magnificent “I have a dream” speech. As he turned to speak of his dream of everyone sitting together at the table of brotherhood, he first encouraged the crowd: “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

Last year’s events were terrible – but we still have a dream, a deeply rooted South African dream. Let us not be tempted to wallow in despair, but let us keep on dreaming, and pray and work to make our dream live.