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The Marikana massacre, labour and capitalism: towards a Ricoeurian alternative


The Marikana massacre refers to the events of 11 to 16 August 2012 at the Lonmin Mine at Marikana where 44 people lost their lives, more than 70 were injured, approximately 250 people were arrested and millions of rands of property damaged. These events were preceded by a wage dispute between worker unions and the Lonmin management. The events were exacerbated by a dispute between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the newly-formed Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). The eventual tragedy also involved the South African Police Service (SAPS) that used the most lethal force against civilians since the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 ( Chinguno, 2013:1). There are many similarities between the Sharpeville and Marikana massacres. The SAPS without warning fired into an unarmed crowd at Sharpeville in Vereeniging, killing at least 69 anti-pass law protesters. This incident was seen by many scholars as a turning point in the struggle against apartheid. Although this incident happened more than 50 years ago it united the oppressed masses against the National Party Government, in much the same way as the Marikana massacre. The Marikana tragedy also united the masses; however, unlike Sharpeville that focused on apartheid laws, Marikana was a protest against economic inequality and injustice. Therefore, the protests by the employees of Lonmin at Marikana had a clear economic agenda that can be traced back to economic exploitation of the colonial and apartheid eras in South Africa. One of the primary demands of the workers was a wage of R12 500 per month. Lonmin management considered the R12 500 increase to be completely unrealistic and the miners responded by engaging in protest and strike action. This demand is about ten times less than the wage of miners in Australia and the United Kingdom (Alexander, 2013:26). It is clear that the colonial and apartheid legacy that justified economic inequality based on race had not been addressed since the first democratic election of 1994.

The tragedy that happened at Marikana is an important warning that economic inequality in South Africa (the second highest in the world after Lesotho) can have devastating consequences to the stability of the country and democracy. Piketty (2014:1) highlights the phenomenon of inequality as being at the core of the problems facing global capitalism. He states the following regarding the events that took place at Marikana (2014:39):

This episode reminds us, if we need reminding, that the question of what share of output should go to wages and what share to profits – in other words, how should the income from production be divided between labour and capital? – has always been at the heart of distributional conflict.

The events leading up to the Marikana massacre are complex and not one single factor was responsible for the tragedy. In this article the focus is on the philosophical and anthropological aspects that may have influenced the breakdown of engagement between the management of Lonmin and workers. It will be argued that this breakdown of communication may have been the result of reductionist anthropological trends that arise in capitalism. These trends selectively utilize modern economic aspects (of people like Adam Smith and Karl Marx) like selfinterest and laissez-faire economics and labour to advance the profit motive of business (Rathbone 2012:20). It can therefore happen that workers are dehumanised and reduced to production factors with a particular monetary value that must be kept as low as possible to ensure maximum profit. This dehumanisation is clear in the breakdown of communication between Lonmin and worker.

Although Smith, from a popular perspective, is undoubtedly seen as the father of reductionist modern economic philosophy, it might be an over-simplification of his work. Smith did state that self-love was at the core of all economic interactions and supported the much written about invisible hand concept of market forces but nevertheless, according to Rathbone (2015:19), clearly stated that sympathy guides how self-love functions in society with the possibility of benevolence. Rathbone (2015:20) points out that Smith even conceded that interventions might be needed under certain circumstances. Sen (2010:52) also explains that Smith pointed out that markets need restraints and correction through other institutions to prevent inequity and poverty. It seems that the self-love theory and the invisible hand of Smith have been used to champion the causes of many writers without their understanding the complexity and moral basis of much of his writings. As Sen (2010:54) puts it: “This is indeed the standard view of Smith that has been powerfully promoted by many writers who constantly invoke Smith to support their view of society.” Despite Sen and Rathbone’s warning it seems that the popular view is to associate Smith’s economic philosophy with greed and excess to promote some reductionist capitalist trends.

In order to provide an alternative anthropology the philosophy of Paul Ricoeur with special reference to his work Fallible man (1986) is explored and applied as an alternative anthropology for the reductionist trends related to labour that sporadically arises in capitalism. Danhauer and Pellauer (2014:1) note that Ricoeur’s anthropology is that of the “capable human being” that refers to the complexity of being human that encompasses capabilities and vulnerabilities.

Ricoeur does not deny humankind’s propensity for evil and goodness, to be capable or incapable. He therefore does not reduce humans to one or the other, but suggests that we can choose how we act. In this article it will be argued that Ricoeur’s philosophical anthropology of viewing humankind as fundamentally fallible but also as responsible agents with choice and vast possibilities, offers better solutions to the dilemma of inequality perpetuated by certain reductionist trends of capitalism.

In the first section of this article the possibility of reductionist trends of capitalism that selectively utilise modern economic philosophy will be explored. Next, the link between the violent incident at Marikana and reductionist anthropological views embedded in capitalism, with specific reference to labour, will be discussed. This will be followed by a proposal that Ricoeur’s philosophical anthropology may provide a more humane alternative that recognises the complexity of being human. Finally, the possible implications of Ricoeur’s anthropology for business will be discussed.

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Author: Jaco Boëttger

Categories: Philosophy