Saturday, August 25, 2012

South Africa's mine owners and miners.

Cry the beloved country no more
When I first went to South Africa as a callow correspondent in the last year of white rule, veteran colleagues said that of the reams of agonised apartheid literature there were just two books I needed to read: Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country and Rian Malan’s My Traitor’s Heart. For the first time in many years I have found myself thinking of both books as the stark images from South Africa’s Lonmin mine massacre have played on television screens around the world.

My 1993 reading list spoke more to the preoccupations of western editors than to the travails of the Rainbow Nation. The first encapsulates the dilemmas and uncertainties of the white liberal. The second is a no-holds-barred, to be read with several glasses of brandy and coke, evisceration of Afrikaner angst and the country’s tortured racial politics. But both books have searing passages that remind the reader how the tortured narrative of South Africa over the past 140 years is woven around the saga of the excavation of some of the more lucrative – and inaccessible – mining seams in the world: first diamond, then gold and now increasingly platinum. The resilience of apartheid was founded on the gold mined each year from the Witwatersrand. It was also, as Paton and Malan show in very different ways, based on the labour of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers. The former addresses the nightmarish world of these young men separated from their families, living in fetid single-sex hostels. The latter recounts the murder of two policemen by striking miners whipped up by witch doctors and the frustrations of years.

If they read this far, old friends in the ANC will be clicking their teeth. One of the lazier syndromes in the international media of recent years has been the way that every political, social or economic drama of the post-apartheid era, from the rise of the firebrand Julius Malema to the fluctuations of the rand, has been presented abroad as an existential crisis. So, the sort of conflict of interest that in, say, India or Brazil is seen as irksome but not disastrous, is in the South African context routinely depicted as a step on the road to Zimbabwe. How many reports in the British press of gruesome murders in Johannesburg have had “Cry the beloved country” in the headline? [...]

It gives some good suggestions for dealing with/resolving the conflict, much as it might be done had it occurred anywhere else. But will they?

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