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Marikana - A major red flag overseas and at home

By Clem Sunter

One of the points that Chantell Ilbury and I have been making for the last few years is that we live in an ultra-competitive world; and, if we want a better life for all, we have to stay in the Premier League of nations. Relegation to the Second Division or, worse still, descending into a Failed State kills any chance of achieving the levels of economic growth (6 to 8% p.a.) necessary for a universal upliftment in South African living standards.

Alas, no matter what words of comfort are offered by our government ministers when being interviewed by an international news agency, Marikana has done enormous damage to our brand of being a thoroughly modern democracy at the tip of Africa - indeed an exceptional model for the rest of Africa to follow. Just for starters, if this incident happened in America, Britain, Europe, Canada, Japan or Australia, the government would have immediately resigned and fresh elections called.

The closest example I can think of in magnitude to this tragedy occurred on 30 January 1972 in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland when 26 unarmed civil-rights protesters and bystanders were shot by soldiers of the British Army. It became known as Bloody Sunday. Thirteen died immediately and one succumbed to his injuries four and a half months later. Northern Ireland was a highly troubled region at the time.

It will take a huge amount of effort to restore our image of being a decent, moral society and an attractive investment destination. Rather than trying to predict the findings of the commission of inquiry into the tragic incident itself, I would prefer to give my list of actions to begin the path of recovery in the eyes of the world as well as of our own citizens.v

1. Implement employee share ownership programmes across all mines. Having been in the mining industry all my life, I am very much aware that we should be doing all we can to improve the conditions of the miners at the face. The problem with tripling wages is that it could lead to the closure of shafts or even whole mines. It would be much better to do what Kumba has done and bring in the miners as part owners. That means they will do well in good times for the mining industry but are less likely to be retrenched in hard times. For me, anyway, it makes much more sense for the ownership of the mines to be extended to the workers rather than for the mines to be nationalised.

2. Stop militarising the police. The game of an army is to use maximum force to defeat the enemy. The game of the police is to impose law and order using minimum force. They are totally different games requiring completely different strategies and tactics. They should never be combined as this only increases the odds of a disaster like Marikana.

3. Cease cadre deployment. The flag of violence has always been our principal flag for assigning a probability to our Failed State scenario. Criminal violence has been around for a long time but now you can add public violence caused by frustrations over lack of service delivery. The only way the latter is going to improve is to hire individuals and companies with proven track records to do the job. So much could be done for so much less money if the normal management principles that are part and parcel of running any competitive world-class business in the private sector are adhered to by the players in the public sector.

4. Achieve a new economic accord. For over a year now, I have been proposing the idea of an Economic Codesa to try and align our UI economy of big business, the union and government with the U2 economy of entrepreneurs and small business. At the moment, we have parallel economic universes with no linkages between the two and little if no hope for the inhabitants of the U2 economy. It will require a private-public partnership of note to create the possibility of integrating the two universes and thereby ushering in a new era of economic democracy and freedom. It has to start with a big bang accord to which all parties commit.

When something like Marikana happens, you want to make sure that the tragedy of it all compels people to take a different and better path to the one they were on prior to the event. Let's change step while the emotions are still raw so that nobody in the entire saga died in vain. You cannot turn back the clock, but you can create a better future.

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