09/10/2012 10:42 am ET Updated Nov 10, 2012

South Africa Mining Protests Have Own Soundtrack

By Ed Cropley

MARIKANA, South Africa, Sept 10 (Reuters) - They are the anthems hard-wired into the soul of every adult black South African: the haunting 'struggle songs' that were the soundtrack to the decades-long fight against apartheid.

Now, a new breed of songs is being born of a wave of labour unrest that has swept across the platinum sector, culminating in the deaths of 44 people last month at Marikana, a mine 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg run by Lonmin.

But these latest chants are not directed at an old white-minority government.

Their targets are the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Nelson Mandela's 100-year-old liberation movement, and the management of the mines that account for 7 percent of Africa's biggest economy.

President Jacob Zuma, who faces an ANC leadership battle in December, is singled out for derision because of his ties to established unions such as the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), one target of the wildcat Marikana strikers.

"Zuma's stupidity is holding South Africa to ransom," runs one of the chants, repeated countless times in faultless harmony on Monday as several thousand striking miners marched 15 km (10 miles) between Lonmin's shafts, ensuring a shutdown was complete.

There was similar disdain for the bosses of London-headquartered Lonmin, who the miners say are refusing to listen to their demands for a raise in basic pay to 12,500 rand a month, more than double their current salary.

"The management will agree to our demands, or they will shit themselves," goes another song.

As well as keeping up spirits under a blazing sky, the songs give rhythm to the machete-wielding marchers, allowing them to walk for hours seemingly without pause for breath.

However, the upbeat mood and camaraderie created by the singing obscures a rage that seethes beneath the surface, ready to boil over.

At one moment, a marching miner suddenly lashed out with a bullwhip at a man walking next to him. His victim immediately turned and sprinted across the savannah, running - literally - for his life as a group of 50 machete-wielding men chase.

"We don't know who he is, but we think he had been working," one of the marchers said, as the songs suddenly ceased and switched to a baying for blood.



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