The recent comments by Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll represent an insult to everyone who still harbours some South African pride, despite our country’s slide into third-world squalor and corruption.
As reported by Sapa, Carroll said: “The violence we have seen in the mining sector this year has its seeds in the legacy of apartheid and the underlying social problems that remain.”
Now, when the National Party came to power in 1948, the entire system of migrant labour had already been in existence for decades. Since the discovery of gold, the colonial mining companies had constantly been clamouring for labour, the cheaper the better. The result was our chaotic urbanisation and immigration, with workers recruited from all over Southern Africa.
Since the nineteenth century, tens of thousands of people have died in mining accidents, the human cost of enriching a few British capitalists. Apparently Ms. Carroll has recently brought the fatality rate down in her mines, but her temerity in lecturing us about apartheid when the mines killed ten times as many people as our police riot squads in forty years is simply breath-taking.
During the 1922 strike, Smuts who by that time had become something of a British puppet, bombed miners from the air and practised a shoot-to-kill policy, killing 200 miners and injuring hundreds more.
Whereas the National Party through investments in Eskom, Transnet, Sasol, Iscor, the CSIR, HSRC, and the creation of more than twenty universities had tried to reduce our dependence on minerals, the mining companies in turn fought back by financing radical movements and propaganda.
Since the days of Rhodes and Milner, the mines have sown discord in South Africa, cynically exploiting our ethnic and political differences.
We must remember that the roots of British business may be traced back to the island’s tradition of piracy and the so-called “privateers” that received carte blanche from English monarchs to plunder the ships of other nations. The English were also the biggest slave traders in Africa, bar the Portuguese.
South Africa has hardly benefited from her mineral wealth, given that most of the profits accrue overseas. As in Joseph Conrad’s allegorical novel, Nostromo, the mines represent a curse to us, causing cycles of conflict and disaster, from the Anglo-Boer war to the current struggle between trade unions for dominance. ANC factions are likewise fighting over BEE deals involving the mines, with political assassinations in Kwazulu-Natal now almost commonplace.
As Mamphela Ramphele has suggested, the mines keep us chained to the nineteenth century and colonial forms of labour exploitation. If we stopped mining altogether and simply traded metals on world markets we would derive more benefit from platinum and gold than we do at present.