The world watched in horror as South African police shot and killed 35 protesters at Marikana mine in the North West province on Thursday, but for the locals the violence stirred memories of the ghost of apartheid past.
On one hand you have the company, Lonmin, formerly the London Rhodesia (Lonrho), representing the wealthy, the landed gentry, while on the other you have seemingly poor “unarmed” mine workers at the receiving end of what can be described as callous, cold blooded murder.
But that doesn’t tell the story. South Africa is still struggling to deal with economic inequalities inherited from the apartheid government.
While the country is under black “majority rule”, the white minority has kept a firm grip on the levers of the economy.
The inequalities are easy to gloss over to ensure that South Africa maintains its status, as the shining beacon of economic growth and stability on the continent. We are made to believe Africa needs examples of success so the rest of the continent can emulate.
Calls for broad based economic empowerment are often ignored at the expense of providing that façade of stability to promote the international investment and the much needed foreign direct investment.
The model of empowerment that we often see is the much reviled BEE (Black Economic Empowerment), which honestly has rewarded those that are close to the corridors of power, while the genuinely poor remain just that.
Just below the veneer of stability is growing impatience among the less privileged that are yet to see the fruits of the much touted democracy.
The violence at Marikana might just be the tip of an increasingly visible iceberg.
The incident will feed squarely into the hands of opportunists and extremists alike. There have been calls for nationalisation of mines and those at the forefront will use the incident to claim that such occurrences will be a hallmark of the situation if mines remained in private and foreign, read white, hands.
Such calls are likely to grow louder in this explosive situation and things might only getter worse before they improve.
God forbid we should not witness protests of this nature in future, but you get the feeling that others may be emboldened to emulate this and we are in for a wave of protests over various issues.
Protests in South Africa have tended to be characterised by violence, but the Marikana incident could just be the match that lights the fuse.
However, this is not to say South Africa faces a possible doomsday scenario. Nonetheless I think it’s time for the nation to introspect.
South Africa is not yet in danger of being “another African country” but the post-apartheid honeymoon frenzy is about to set and the country should face reality.
Former President Thabo Mbeki once described it as a country with two economies, for the haves and the haves not. This is becoming more evident.
While it is easy to blame the police for the shooting or the protesters for provoking the cops, the truth of the matter is this will be addressing symptoms rather than the cause of a bigger problem.