The Spirit of Marikana

Issue section: 

The Spirit of Marikana is about strikes in three platinum mines across South Africa from 2012 to 2014, including the massacre of 34 striking black mineworkers at Marikana in August 2012. It is an important book and an engrossing read, even when describing the shock and horror of the killings.

It is made up of many threads that are sewn together to form an extraordinary tapestry. The topics it touches upon relate to trade union bureaucracies and the rank and file, informal worker committees, trade union leaders, how political parties relate to trade unions, how revolutionaries can intervene in disputes and the role of the state.

The authors write from a perspective Socialist Review shares: “This book takes as a starting point the ‘organic capacity of the working class’…in the conscious process of what Marx described as ‘making their own history’.” In addition, “this book is unapologetically based on the perspective of mineworkers and strike leaders”. Luke and Siphiwe interviewed many of the key figures and quote extensively from mineworkers.

This approach captures important details as the strikes progress and end, and how the workers’ committees develop, and there are detailed debates about how to relate to trade unions. It is a fascinating and detailed insight into how trade unions can gain, maintain and lose the loyalty and trust of their membership.

It is very exciting to read about the minute details of how ideas discussed at work can spread and develop into strikes involving thousands of workers, and the role that “ordinary” people can have in being leaders in their workplaces. Referring to the struggles at the Lonmin platinum mine, the authors describe how “two RDOs [rock drill operators] provided the impetus in May 2012 for a demand for a R12,500 basic wage… They initially met in the changing rooms after work, and worked out what was, in the initial stages, merely a request… Thereafter, they met in in small groups with five to ten RDOs until their numbers reached about 100. At that point…[they] presented what had then become a demand.”

The book has real value for anyone interested in contemporary South African politics, with references to the reaction of the ANC government to the massacre at Marikana and the strikes and the rise of new radical political force the Economic Freedom Fighters.

It also acts as tribute to those who fought against poverty pay and terrible working conditions, risking repression and death. The events it describes have a global resonance. If you are a trade unionist, socialist, anti-capitalist and internationalist read this book. It is a reinvigorating reminder of the violence capitalism will ultimately reach for and of the importance of workers being at the centre of our organisations and struggles.