Inside Story

South Africa’s economic apartheid

Could growing frustration over the country’s economic disparities have major repercussions for the ruling ANC?

The South African miners’ strike is into its fourth week and shows no signs of ending.

There is growing frustration over poverty and inequality and as links between the mines and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) are exposed, we ask: Is there a new kind of apartheid in South Africa?

South Africa’s total mineral reserves are some of the world’s most valuable and are worth an estimated at $2.5 trillion, but many of those working in the mines live in poverty and squalor.

The shooting of 34 striking miners last month by police was a shocking reminder of South Africa’s apartheid past and it has brought to the forefront the anger many people feel over the country’s growing class divide.

The unions have traditionally provided a powerful support base for the ruling ANC. But the ANC and its policies are increasingly being placed under the spotlight after police fired rubber bullets at striking miners at the Modder East gold mine in Gauteng province on Monday. That mine has business ties to relatives of Jacob Zuma, the South African president, and Nelson Mandela.

The anger and rage … [felt] by the poor in South African society is partly directed at the political elite but it’s also directed at the economic elite. The ANC’s economic policies since 1994 have not been solely focused on redistribution; they have been focused on growth – to the ignorance of redistribution.

– Adam Habib, a professor of politics at the University of Johannesburg

And the platinum mining company Lonmin, at whose mine the protests started, has a prominent ANC member sitting on its board.

Miners themselves are also divided, with many believing that the main union, the National Union of Mineworkers, is too close to both mine owners and the state.

Now a breakaway union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), is promising war over pay and living conditions.

Workers are threatening to halt production in all mines and to make them ungovernable if salaries and living conditions are not improved.

Julius Malema, the ANC’s expelled youth wing leader, has demanded Zuma’s resignation over the violence and urged miners to fight for their economic freedom.

“The reason our government is failing to intervene in the mines is because our leaders are involved in these mines,” Malema said. “President Zuma’s foundations receive funding from the mines, and that is why he cannot stand against the mines. Comrades you only have yourselves, you must stand up and fight for your rights.”

So, what is the political fallout from South Africa’s mining crisis?

To answer this question, Inside Story, with presenter Shiulie Ghosh, speaks to guests: Anthea Jeffery, the head of special research at the South African Institute of Race Relations; Adam Habib, a labour law expert and a professor of politics at the University of Johannesburg; and Tony Dykes, the director of Action for Southern Africa, an organisation working for justice, democracy and development.

“Marikana felt like a nightmare, but that is what our democracy is in 2012. People are going to sleep hungry in this freedom for which people were tortured and harmed. It is difficult to believe people are getting such money and benefits and are driving such flashy cars while the masses suffer in cramped shacks.”

Retired archbishop Desmond Tutu on the growing disillusionment with the ANC