solidarity before violence ? the lonmin strikers and their loss

Who would’ve acknowledged the laborious and dangerous work being done by Lonmin’s rock-drillers had they not taken up arms – machetes and sticks – and screamed their unacknowledged rage and their unacknowledged story laced with days of body wearing work? Who would’ve picked up on the story of these workers being paid R4000 per month under some of the worst working conditions? Very few, because it is a familiar story whose roots are linked to larger societal attitudes determined, mainly, by those who hold the most power. One of those dominant attitudes being that labour and service jobs are not given respect in South Africa and are, for the most part, horrifically paid. What media outlet would’ve presented this narrative as relevant to a larger community narrative? This community narrative then climbs its way all the way up to those who frame and give orders and perhaps hold onto their own anger, whose political roots are now laced with a defensive edge, instead of a listening ear.

Lonmin miners doing their work.
Photograph: Alamy

Who would’ve acknowledged the sound and word of even one Lonmin worker, had violence and death not occurred?

It is no secret that police culture all over the world is one of violence. Earlier last year we saw how SAPS trained their own when female recruit Chantell Young was subjected to an absurdly violent ‘initiation’ and then denied medical attention. Unfortunately all that seems individually possible when police brutality occurs is to scream ‘police brutality!’. But what of the structures that frame the workplace within which police officers attend everyday? What are its inner workings? And what makes it globally acceptable to accept police violence as inherent and – ‘now let’s see if our screaming works THIS time’. Lonmin corporates, AMCU and NUM unions seem to be in a big political mess. Let’s ask more pointed questions of them and their accountability.

Let’s sit at tables made for genuine conversation. Let’s sit close, but not too close. Let’s rage and let’s listen and let’s stop bullshitting around. Solidarity and protest is a powerful thing, it inherently states ‘my body and all that it has lived counts in a tremendous way’. And solidarity and protest are especially powerful when it feels as if one can’t lose much more – the situation of the rock-drillers is that their lives are already in danger through their work.

It saddens me that solidarity from extended community doesn’t always come before amp-ed up violence and that journalists are no longer given spaces as storytellers. But it excites me that there are those who will scream their stories and there are still a rare few who will sit down listen, reflect and begin a conversation.

For context here’s a link giving background details relevant to the protests.


About erin bosenberg
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