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Arms and the marchers

Aug 17 2012 07:36 Mzwandile Jacks

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AS THE numbers of those who died in skirmishes at the Lonmin's Marikana mine came in this week, so did the assertions of gloom.

Opinion-makers went into overdrive, claiming South Africa's problem of public violence - which often rears its ugly head during workers’ marches - is set to continue as little is done to stop it.

Opinion-makers said the murders in the North West Province have raised the issue of violence in public consciousness.

Lonmin [JSE:LON] is one of the world's biggest producers of platinum group metals.

At least 10 people - including two police officers, two security guards, three protesters and three other men - were killed at its Marikana mine in Rustenburg this week after thousands of Lonmin's rockdrill operators started an illegal strike a week ago, demanding to be paid R12 500 a month.

I am forced to agree with the opinion-makers because it is well known that violence aimed at people holding divergent views in South Africa's workplace is not condemned in the strongest possible terms by leaders of both political parties and trade unions.

If these leaders do condemn it, it is often not followed by tough actions aimed at eradicating the problem.

Even law enforcement authorities have become used to the fact that workers' marches are violent. They are often dispatched to areas where they come under attack. But this seems to have become a normal call to duty for the police.

Instead of finding ways of fixing the problem, leaders of political parties and trade unions often blame each other, failing to find and deal harshly with violent members in their midst.

This could be the reason members of these parties and trade unions always openly carry dangerous weapons whenever they take to the streets. Organisers and party marshals, it seems, do not discourage members from carrying these weapons.

During the apartheid era, carrying weapons was condoned because it was believed that marchers should be prepared to defend themselves as they could come under attack from vigilante and brutal apartheid police forces.

We are 18 years into a new democracy. Why do marchers still carry weapons? 

Some of the best ways to increase enforcement against violence and the carrying of these weapons is for the country's lawmakers to ensure that a conviction will increase an offender's sentence if they are found with dangerous weapons.

It is my conviction that those carrying weapons should be investigated and prosecuted for the broad harm they do to communities, and well beyond their individual victims.

Earlier this year, members of the country's biggest worker federation Cosatu and the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), clashed in Braamfontein, Johannesburg as the DA was marching to the offices of Cosatu over youth wage subsidies.

None of the parties took responsibility for the violence that followed these clashes. I know that a couple of people do get arrested in these acts, but this is clearly not enough to deter people from violent behaviour.

The case of Lonmin's Marikana mine this week clearly shows that systems have not improved since the Braamfontein incident, and that nothing new has been learnt from that case.

I can assure anyone who is prepared to listen that before the end of the year, South Africa will have another Marikana. Reasons are plenty.

If somebody requested me to sum up in a line where South Africa will be 10 years from now, I would say it will be neither the greatest nor the wickedest of times.

South Africa's major companies will thrive and retain their operations, but workers will never let them fully relish it. 

What drives many companies in South Africa is an outlandish mix of accomplishment and cosiness that underpins the craving to hold on to the status quo, particularly on the wage issue. And that thought is not going to be altered anytime soon.

South African companies will continue to pay company executives millions of rands in bonuses, share options and salaries while workers on the ground will be paid starvation wages.

If the companies' economic prosperity seems to reinforce the status quo, the violence caused by suffering workers will continue.

 - Fin24 

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