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“Marikana changed everything, but nothing has changed” – an excerpt from Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh’s Democracy and Delusion

Democracy and Delusion
A fresh, different perspective on South African politics.

Many common political arguments come pre-packaged in a very old and dusty box – and in this book, Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh sets out to dismantle that box. The self-evident truths are not, in fact, so indisputable. He argues that free education is far from impossible, the ANC did not liberate South Africa, land reform is not the first step to chaos, and the media is not free…

In this incisive, informed book we find not only challenges to commonly held opinions, but optimism about South Africa’s future and new solutions to old problems.

Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh is an outspoken political commentator, scholar and musician. He is a co-founder of the InkuluFreeHeid Organisation and was prominent in the Rhodes Must Fall movement at Oxford University, where he is currently pursuing a doctorate in international relations. He has made popular videos about South African politics, available on his site and his social media accounts. Visit the site for the companion rap album to this book, also titled Democracy and Delusion.

Read the chapter ‘Option 2: Lonmin’s Housing Failures’:

Marikana continues to haunt South Africa. The tragedy is that Marikana changed everything, but nothing has changed. If anything, those responsible have struck a double blow to the victims, stripping them of their dignity and refusing to acknowledge wrongdoing through appropriate acts of atonement.

One of the major factors at play in Marikana was the mining sector’s appalling record on providing adequate housing for workers. Even Judge Farlam admitted that inadequate housing contributed to the events at Marikana.

In 2006, Lonmin talked a good game. It enlisted the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre to facilitate dialogues between its stakeholders. Following this, it committed R56m per year to education, health, and housing programmes in the Marikana community over five years. Brad Mills, then-CEO, announced the steps alongside Bishop Tutu himself. Tutu was similarly optimistic about the initiative, saying ‘this is not about altruism, but is rather the best form of self-interest, because once your workforce is happy, efficiencies are sure to rise’. The announcement was a public relations boon. Mills spent a night in one of the worker hostels, and cashed in on his own narrative as a former drill-rig operator in the United States. Lonmin looked set to implement an ambitious socio-economic plan.

The plan is important to scrutinise, because it secured Lonmin’s mining rights. The plan’s signature was a pledge to build 5 500 houses by 2011. By 2012, Lonmin had built just three. And those three were only ‘show houses’ to exhibit what the final ones would look like. In 2011, it abandoned the 2006 housing plan altogether, while never obtaining written consent from the state to change its targets. It’s difficult to imagine a failure more spectacular. What went wrong? When events at Marikana eventually illuminated this failure, Lonmin could only give a litany of flimsy excuses.

Its first defence was that it ‘lacked the necessary financial resources’ due to the 2008 financial crisis. But this argument was crushed by Adv. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi when he cross-examined Cyril Ramaphosa at the Marikana Commission. Even if the financial crisis was to blame, why had nothing been done in 2007 and 2008 to reach the goals of the plan? Surely, more than three houses could have been built in two years? In fact, at least 700 should have been built by then, per Lonmin’s own reports. Ramaphosa fumbled, citing the ‘broader context’.

Asked if he had ever queried the actual number of houses built, Ramaphosa then shockingly admitted he ‘never had sight of a report to that effect’. These figures were presented in the Lonmin Annual Report of 2009, released a year before he became Chair of the Transformation Committee. How could he not have interrogated that report before assuming such an important role? Either he was extremely ignorant, profiting from a board positon without paying regard to working conditions; or, he was satisfied with the progress of three houses out of 5 500. Either way, his conduct was a serious dereliction of duty, and a sad indictment on his commitment to transformation.

So, Ramaphosa didn’t have a clue about the housing situation, despite his senior role at Lonmin. He blindly accepted the management reports. If we can forgive this, we can’t forgive his ignorance of Lonmin’s financial position. Surely, he knew whether the 2008 financial crisis did necessitate scrapping the entire housing plan? Let’s look at Lonmin’s financials in the years between 2006 and 2011 to see if their excuses stack up. First, Lonmin’s revenues were high in 2006 and 2007, at $1.9 and $2.2bn respectively, as Figure 2 shows. Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) in these years were $842m and $796m. The 2008 financial year was Lonmin’s best: EBIT was $963m. This changed in 2009: EBIT fell to -$93m. But profits rebounded immediately. In 2010, EBIT was $228m, and in 2011 Lonmin made a profit of $311m (equivalent to approximately R4bn). How could Lonmin possibly have claimed financial hardship for a plan that cost R56m per year when it was consistently earning an average of R3bn per year? Lonmin’s poverty excuse is absolute hogwash; nonsense that makes Jacob Zuma look like a paragon of virtuous truth-telling. And, sadly, it’s hogwash that Cyril Ramaphosa accepted unquestioningly.

It gets worse. Ramaphosa’s company, Shanduka, was receiving R3m per year to advise Lonmin on ‘black empowerment’ while Lonmin was crying poverty. Somehow it could afford these payments, but not wage increases. To put this number in perspective, the money paid to Shanduka could have funded the R12 500 wage demand for 500 workers. Lonmin also claims the plans failed because other ‘stakeholders’ like local government failed to avail land. But Lonmin’s original plan never mentioned a lack of access to land. And Lonmin’s own reports say that by 2008, they had secured enough land for at least 800 stands. In 2009, an additional 1 500 stands were approved by the local council. So, 2 300 stands were available by the time Ramaphosa became Chairperson of the Transformation Committee. Why then did Lonmin only build three ‘show houses’?

Lonmin tries to mitigate these failures by saying it’s still managed to convert several hostels. Hostel-conversion means turning rooms that used to house eight people at once into single-person accommodation. In 2014, it completed its hostel conversion programme. But this was no cause for celebration. The goal was to convert 124 hostels by 2011. They only began conversion in 2008 (the year of purported financial difficulty), and by 2011 less than half of hostels had been converted into anything that approximated an adequate standard. But hostel conversions mask a larger problem. As Judge Farlam pointed out, conversion meant that there was a resultant housing shortage, since old hostels slept eight to a room. That’s why new houses were so important, because converting hostels meant that many people would be without housing given the size of the new units. According to Amnesty international, this affected 13 500 workers. Their only option was to seek housing in Marikana, one of the most shack-dense places in South Africa and an ode to our country’s grotesque inequality.

Most miners ended up in Nkaneng, an informal settlement adjacent to the mine on Lonmin’s land. Nkaneng is one of the saddest sights in South Africa. Rickety shacks along beige dirt roads sit cheek-by-jowl with towering mineshafts, like tall mirrors reflecting South Africa’s ugliness back at itself. If Lonmin could just focus on improving the lives of the Nkaneng community, it could dent inequality, and ease the national wound caused by Marikana. Instead, it has reneged on its housing promises, and rubbed salt in the wound. When it was put to Ramaphosa that Lonmin’s housing performance was a ‘compete failure’ he said, ‘he wouldn’t put it like that’. Rather, he said, Lonmin ‘underachieved’. Quite.

Lonmin’s arguments just don’t add up. They tricked the Department of Mineral Resources into giving them a license, then pocketed the profits and back-peddled on their commitments. In my view, their license should be revoked. At the very least, they should be heavily fined for breaching their own legally binding plan. Instead, government has stayed eerily silent. That’s the real farce: even the killings could not provoke Lonmin to budge an inch.

In many ways, Marikana is the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with South Africa today. It’s what happens when we let the ten myths I’ve discussed in this book fester. It touches on land rights and illuminates the failures of land reform. It implicates President Zuma, and spotlights his lack of accountability. It shows the persistence of racial oppression. It reveals the deep biases in South Africa’s so-called ‘free’ media. It shows how living conditions have worsened for many since 1994, exposes the flaws of the ANC’s ‘we liberated you’ narrative, and highlights the importance of reworking our education system. Marikana is South Africa today, and we hide from it like we hide from the horror of our reality. Justice delayed is justice denied, but justice delayed and denied is justice destroyed. It’s time we wiped away the miracle narrative, and faced our twisted, beautiful country anew, with the only weapon that can help us navigate the future: the truth.

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