“Miners Shot Down”: How the South African state helped a mining corporation massacre striking workers

The 2014 documentary Miners Shot Down explores the Marikana massacre — the South African government’s mowing down of more than 100 miners who had gone on a week-long wildcat strike in 2012.

The film, directed by South African activist Rehad Desai, details how the state and corrupt union leadership collaborated with capital in order to crush the workers’ movement.

Working hand-in-hand with the Lonmin mining corporation, the South African government broke the strike with a flood of bullets.

On the day of the massacre, 10 August 2012, 34 miners were killed and 78 were wounded. Several more were killed in the days before.

Politicians from the ostensibly left-leaning ruling African National Congress (ANC) party insisted they had not planned to slaughter the workers, but the evidence contradicts their claims.

Most striking is the fact that senior police authorities ordered four mortuary vans from the morgue on the early morning of the massacre. They also brought thousands of rounds of ammunition. Clearly they were planned on doling out violence.

And doling out violence is indeed what they did. Working in direct collaboration with Lonmin, police systematically gunned down dozens of striking workers, shooting them while they fled. Emails show that the mining corporation helped the government in virtually every stage of repression of the strike, up to and including the killings.

Although numerous senior officials in the government refused interviews for the film, Desai managed to speak with South African politician Cyril Ramaphosa, a figure who exemplifies the revolving door with capital that is so characteristic of business unionism.

Ramaphosa helped build the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), turning it into South Africa’s strongest union. The NUM played a critical role in ending apartheid. Later, however, Ramaphosa became a shareholder of Lonmin, and gratefully joined its board.

Unsurprisingly, Ramaphosa — the labor leader cum politico who had a vested interest in seeing the corporation’s business go unimpeded — defended the government’s bloody crushing of the wildcat strike. Emails show he even encouraged the police chief to carry it out.

He was ultimately rewarded for his service to capital. Ramaphosa went on to be elected deputy president of the ANC in December of that very year.

Lonmin is listed on the London Stock Exchange, and its registered office is in London, although its operational headquarters are in Johannesburg.

In the film, South African workers characterize the mining corporation’s management as “Boers” — referring to the European colonialists who established the white supremacist capitalist state in South Africa.

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You can watch the trailer for Miners Shot Down here: