Have we become so insensitive in Gauteng, in South Africa, that we all but disregard the unspeakable violence that’s unfolding on our own doorstep? Are we too callous to care, too inundated with tragedy and violence on a daily basis to truly take stock of what’s happening around us? Have our ideas of what qualifies as shocking been warped to such an extent that we no longer see people being burnt and hacked to death as utterly unacceptable and appalling?
The story of the ongoing mine violence at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in the North West has made the front page of only a handful of the country’s newspapers. The story is one of brutal violence, a series of grisly murders and the apparent inability of the powers that be to properly control this volatile situation.
Two security guards burnt to death in their patrol vehicle, apparently set alight by a marauding gang of strikers. One mine employee was hacked to death with pangas, another died after he was shot five times. Police officers called in to quell the violence were themselves stabbed and hacked to death.
On Tuesday, a man’s body was left lying in the middle of a dusty track, arms outstretched, face up and ignored by groups of striking mineworkers who walked straight by. It was left to journalists to notice the death of the 10th victim of this violence and report it to police.
How is it that this news is not leading every broadcast news bulletin, and plastered over the front pages of every newspaper? Why are social networks like Twitter not abuzz with condemnation? How has the entire government, including the president, not been left publically appalled by this senseless violence?
Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu appears to be the lone voice of condemnation for now – but even she hasn’t travelled to the restless area to assess the situation or to demonstrate her interest in seeing the clashes being brought to a final and firm end.
Tensions among rock drillers at platinum mines in the North West started building from as early as 2007, when low salaries were already flagged as an issue. In February this year, thousands of them went on strike over pay and more than 17 000 Impala Platinum workers were fired as a result. Now, rivalry between the National Union of Mineworkers and newcomer union AMCU appear to have added fuel to the fire at Lonmin’s operation.
Has the idea of police officers being hacked to death with pangas or security guards being burnt alive in their vehicle or miners being callously murdered become so unremarkable, so commonplace to South Africans that it no longer ignites even indignation, let alone the unbridled wrath that it actually warrants?
This type of brutality is never deserving of anything other than outrage and disgust. Why the violence really started and who is really behind it are, for now, irrelevant. Right now, it simply needs to be stopped. The authorities are trying to do just that: hundreds of police have been deployed to the area and are currently maintaining an uneasy calm. Negotiations are underway to try to ease the tensions.
Camilla Bath is EWN Deputy Editor in Johannesburg.