Environmental justice and slow violence: Marikana and the post-apartheid South African mining industry in context

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 16
  • SDG 12
  • Abstract:

    South Africa has come a long way since the constitutional revolution that swept the country in the early 1990s. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 introduced and continues to drive far-reaching changes to the political, social and juridical landscape and it aims to create a more just and equal society for all; one where respect for human rights is paramount. On 16 August 2012 the country was rocked to its core when the South African Police Service killed 34 striking miners at Lonmin Plc's platinum mine at Marikana in the country's North-West Province in what appeared to be a brutal suppression of one of the most significant labour unrests in the country's history. Evoking images of apartheid-era police brutality, the "Marikana massacre" has unearthed some of the many challenges the country is struggling with on its long road to creating a just society for all. The predominant focus of political and juridical commentary on and scholarly critique of the incident has to date focused on labour and social justice issues. In this article we focus on the often ignored, albeit equally critical, deleterious socio-economic and related environmental impacts of mining in South Africa by exploring the intimate link between slow violence and the broader environmental justice movement within the South African context through the lens of the Marikana massacre. In pursuit of this objective, the article commences with a brief overview of the actors involved in the Marikana massacre. The following part seeks to understand environmental justice and slow violence in relation to the massacre. We then demonstrate how the South African mining industry, backed as it was by government, has been highly exploitative of workers and natural resources, and how successive post-apartheid governments have been and continue to be complicit in environmental injustice and slow violence against marginalised black people in South Africa. In view of the consequences of this historical legacy, in the final part of the article, we provide some critical observations within the framework of environmental justice and slow violence.