JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The African National Congress party’s recent victory in South Africa’s fifth democratic election has come under increasing duress as South African platinum miners end their strike independent of typical political avenues.
The rise of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) played the critical role of counteracting the significant social and economic distress caused by the five month-long strike, which has been considered a pivotal example of growing tension in the country. Stephen Grootes, writing for The Guardian, recognizes the strike in the context of the “political story of the last year or so” and as “the strongest indication yet that the political hegemony of the ANC is now over.”
Joseph Mathunjwa, president of the AMCU, has officially accepted a wage deal that will end the strike, helping the country rebound from its economic contractions this first quarter and allow South African platinum to re-enter the market. South African platinum dominates around 45 percent of the global supply, implicating the strike in more than a billion dollars in export loss and a 0.6 percent decline in the South African economy. Still, the decision is a massive victory for economic equality and workers rights as the country still looks to move forward from its dark past.
The lowest paid workers will be receiving a pay increase of 1,000 rand (about $95) per month.
Considered almost synonymous with Nelson Mandela’s post-Apartheid vision of South Africa, the party has been under escalating scrutiny after the 2012 “Marikana Massacre,” where South African security forces used lethal force against striking miners. The AMCU’s opposition to the more established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), according to Grootes, “shows that there are now more actors in politics, that the game has more players who have power in their own right.”
An interview with South African political analyst Ralph Mathekga published on June 9 highlights the implications of the strike. “The ANC has lost the ground that it has always had,” explains Mathekga, “There are deeper issues within in the strike. It’s not just a question of wages. It’s a question of justice.”
Debates surrounding the proposed National Development Plan (NDP), “aimed at eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030,” are doing little in actuality to benefit South African citizens or answer this question of justice. The consequences of continued governmental ineptitude and a shift in economic power away from the ruling party may lead to dramatic political shifts come the 2016 elections.
Researchers from the University of Johannesburg note, “The numbers show that the African National Congress’s traditional support base–low-income voters–has dwindled significantly.”
Progress is not guaranteed, but this strike helps spotlight issues that domestic and international citizens need to stop ignoring. “Perhaps the biggest lesson,” Grootes explains, “is the disturbing lack of change these past 20 years.
“It is often claimed that apartheid is over. Not for these miners; they live it every day. We have to end it for them too.”
– Michael Portal