How Lack of Leadership can kill people
If you have seen the footage of policemen in wild retreat shooting demonstrating workers and killing 45 at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, after the shock and horror the question “how could this happen in South Africa?” is next.
For over a week I have listened to the ever increasing tensions in this conflict via the public broadcaster SABC News; and for over a week I have wondered: Where are the political leaders in this drama that seemed trivial, then tragic, but never necessarily leading to the horror that has now unfolded.
Despite 10 people already being killed the previous weekend, including 2 policemen, there was only a dry statement of the President calling for the restoration of order; the minister for mines was indispensable elsewhere. No leader stepped up and engaged the workers to find out what exactly their grievances are.
If they had they most likely would have found out that the rock drillers, just as many other still poor South Africans, just ran out of patience. They had no more patience to wait for the economy, that so handsomely benefits some of their “leaders”, to grow to lift them out of poverty (mind – platinum is not a minor product but the main mined commodity for South Africa in value, and the mine affected is 12% of global production).
The unwritten contract of the peaceful transition of South Africa from apartheid to a more equal society is failing large parts of the population, and the leaders do not care. Instead, they are busy jostling for the Presidency – up for reassignment in December – pulling all sorts of legal and likely also illegal tricks, whatever is needed to keep their perks and get themselves and their allies rich quick (for they also have no patience left to wait for a better life and want it now).
Reportedly, the expelled former leader of the ANC Youth League had addressed (and no doubt fired up) the striking workers. They had joined a union more forcefully asking for their share, more forcefully in any case than the traditional representation, which is tied to Cosatu, the national assembly of unions, which in turn is tied to the ANC government.
The hotheads of the Youth League and their allies are sick of the establishment around the President, whose main interest is reelection and perpetuation of the cronyism that stalls any real development now. They want nationalization of the mines and state-led distribution of the wealth now so concentrated – a tempting thought but a way to the abyss just as quick as the present system turns out to be.
What fills South Africa’s coffers is the hunger for resources of all of us, the entire world. The money only keeps flowing as long as stability is preserved at all costs.
But there will be no stability if the shares of the boom are not distributed more evenly to everyone instead of between those who already have (and have had for a long time) and those few that are profiting from being tied to the current system of patronage.
What today’s leaders, in politics and in business, fail to grasp, as opposed to the founders of the new South Africa, is that stability is a function of welfare of everyone, and not one of law (even if the law is now legitimate) and order.
A real leader would long have thrown all his weight behind the provision of the most basic of services, like decent housing and schoolbooks for all children, and he would have the support of many other leaders willing to share their own individual wealth more quickly than today. If the Have’s of today’s South Africa are not looking after the vast majority of Have-Not’s, then the senseless death of over 50 people will be just the epilogue to more of the same, and not the turning point South Africa needs. If the leaders of today do not step up to that challenge – others will and will replace them, sooner rather than later one would hope.