The Marikana Massacre

The Marikana Massacre

The Marikana Massacre, which occurred on August 16, 2012, is one of the most tragic and contentious events in post-apartheid South Africa. This incident not only starkly highlighted the ongoing class struggle between labor and capital within the country’s mining sector but also brought to light the complex role of President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose involvement in the mining industry as a businessman has been scrutinized in the aftermath of the violence. The massacre at Marikana and its implications provide a profound case study of the intertwined issues of economic disparity, political power, and labor rights in South Africa’s evolving democracy.

Background of the Marikana Massacre

The event unfolded at the Marikana platinum mine, owned by Lonmin Plc. Mineworkers had been striking for better wages and working conditions, highlighting the broader labor unrest in South Africa’s mining sector. The workers, many of whom earned meager wages, faced harsh living conditions and high risks associated with their jobs. Their demands were met with stiff resistance from mine management, setting the stage for a catastrophic confrontation.

On the afternoon of August 16, police deployed to disperse the striking miners opened fire, resulting in the deaths of 34 miners and wounding 78 more. This brutal use of force was broadcast across the globe, drawing international condemnation and forcing a national reflection on the state of labor relations and economic inequality in South Africa.

The Role of Cyril Ramaphosa

At the time of the massacre, Cyril Ramaphosa was a non-executive director at Lonmin and a prominent member of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). His transition from a mine labor activist during the apartheid era to a wealthy businessman has been marked by significant Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) deals, starting with the acquisition of Johnnic Holdings, followed by the formation of his investment company, Shanduka Group, which included interests in the mining sector.

Emails released in the aftermath of the massacre showed Ramaphosa calling for “concomitant action” to address the situation a day before the police crackdown. His critics argue that his statements and his positions both within the government and in the mining business influenced the decision to take a hardline approach against the striking miners. These allegations have cast a long shadow over his political career, raising uncomfortable questions about the potential conflicts of interest between his business holdings and his responsibilities and ideals as a government official.

Economic Context and Class Struggle

The Marikana Massacre must be understood against the backdrop of South Africa’s broader socio-economic landscape. Despite the end of apartheid, the economic disparities between the rich, predominantly white upper classes, and the poor, mostly black working class, have persisted and, in some cases, widened. The mining industry, in particular, has been a microcosm of these inequalities, with vast mineral wealth generating significant profits for multinational corporations and local elites, while the miners themselves remain impoverished and disenfranchised.

This disparity points to an ongoing class struggle, where the economic and political systems appear to be aligned more closely with capital than with the labor forces at the heart of the nation’s wealth. Marikana became a symbol of this struggle, highlighting the extreme lengths to which the state and capital would go to protect economic interests.

Political Implications and Ramaphosa’s Presidency

Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency, which began in 2018, has been continually haunted by the specter of Marikana. The massacre raised serious doubts about his commitment to social justice and workers’ rights, despite his background as a trade union leader who once championed such causes. His rise through the ranks of both political and economic power structures in South Africa exemplifies the complex interplay between liberation movements and the lure of capital in the post-apartheid era.

The Marikana incident has also prompted broader debates about the role of the ANC in the new South Africa. Once a liberation movement, the ANC in power has faced criticism for what many see as its shift towards neoliberal policies that favor big business and betray the economic aspirations of its most vulnerable supporters.


The Marikana Massacre is a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges facing South Africa in its quest to reconcile the promises of its democratic transition with the realities of economic inequality and political power dynamics.

The incident not only reflects the acute tensions between labor and capital but also the painful contradictions embodied by figures like Cyril Ramaphosa, whose journey from anti-apartheid activist to president is marred by allegations of compromising on the very principles he once stood for.

As South Africa continues to navigate its complex social, economic, and political landscapes, the lessons of Marikana remain relevant, serving as a grim cautionary tale about the costs of neglecting the fundamental issues of equality, justice, and human dignity.

The massacre at Marikana did not just expose the fractures within South African society; it also underscored the urgent need for a more equitable distribution of power and wealth in the nation’s ongoing struggle to fulfill the aspirations of its people.