Human Rights or Mining Rights?

Continuing from my previous blog post, ‘Today I am crying for Africa’, this is the second installment in a short series discussing the Lonmin massacre of a few weeks ago, and ‘what’s wrong with shooting a bunch of protesting miners, when they had been violent and even apparently committed murder (two policemen were killed in the preceding week)?’ So many levels of wrong...
I discussed the most obvious level first: 1. DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES.
In this post I will look at another rather obvious level…

2. Human Rights – incl. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR)
Most people would agree that everyone is born equal and free – theoretically at least. This is what all our ‘human rights’ and international agreements are based on. Our modern world, for the most part, at least pays lip service to the concept of all human life being equally valued and human beings having certain ‘inalienable’ rights.

Exactly what ‘rights’ these are, is often hotly debated between cultures and even within countries though. There is also much scholarly and political debate around cultural differences between ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ (or ‘First world’ vs. ‘Third World’) countries, and how ‘human rights’ are perceived or applied. For example, there are widely differing views regarding the treatment of women in different countries and cultures.

Furthermore, the more traditional ‘political and civil’ or ‘first generation’ rights (emphasised more in so-called ‘Western’ countries) have now been extended by a second tier, or ‘second generation’ of rights, referred to as ‘economic, social and cultural rights’ (ESCR). These ESCR are seen as ‘collective rights’ - more highly valued in so-called ‘Eastern’ or ‘Third World’ countries than the ‘political and civil’ rights, which are viewed as ‘individual’ rights. (There is also a ‘third generation’ of rights which refer to the right to a clean and healthy environment - or ‘green’ rights)

In South Africa, ‘human rights’ feature prominently in political and legal discourse -South Africa has a Constitution, with a ‘Bill of Rights’, and is a signatory to many International Conventions relating to the protection of ‘human rights’, including the ‘Civil and Political Rights’ (CPR) and ‘Economic Social and Cultural Rights’ (ESCR) - both signed in 1994.

Here is a brief snapshot of some of the rights contained within the International Covenants which are relevant to the striking mineworkers.

The CPR include:
- Article 6: ‘the right to life’;
- Article 9: ‘the right to liberty and security of person’ and basic rights regarding arrest;
- Article 14: continues with the principles of a fair trial;
- Article 22 ‘the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests’;
- Article 25: ‘every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity…(c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country; and
- Article 26: ‘All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law’.

The full text of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights can be viewed at:

The ESCR include:
- Article 7: ‘the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work’: ‘fair wages’; ‘a decent living for themselves and their families’; ‘safe and healthy working conditions’; ‘rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays’;
- Article 8: ‘the right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, for the promotion and protection of his economic and social interests. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public order or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others’; and
‘the right to strike, provided that it is exercised in conformity with the laws of the particular country’; and
- Article 11: ‘the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right’.

The full text of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights can be viewed at:

The South African Constitution’s Preamble introduces this key document as being foundational to ‘a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights’. The first chapter refers to the importance of ‘human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms’. These ‘rights’ are then listed in detail in 35 sections. This is the South African Bill of Rights, which is the cornerstone of our so-called democracy, and brings the International Human Rights treaties into effect in our local legal and political system.

Among these, the rights most relevant to the striking miners at Marikana are:
- ‘the right to life’;
- ‘freedom and security of the person’;
- ‘labour relations’ (joining a union and striking);
- ‘housing’ (the government must ensure access to proper housing);
- ‘health care, food, water and social security’;
- ‘Just administrative action’ (actions by the government must be fair); and
- the rights of ‘arrested, detained and accused persons’ (to not forfeit any of their human rights).

For more discussion/ detail of South Africa’s Constitutional Bill of Rights, see:

Of course I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read this, since so many South Africans still do not have even the most basic of these ‘rights’ in reality. This is why there has been a groundswell of violent protests in this country recently – from ‘service delivery’ to strike actions… People are tired of waiting for the ‘rainbow nation’ to throw some crumbs their way. They fought long and hard for ‘the liberation’ – many sacrificing more than the elite who are now the fat cats that have forgotten the masses that helped get them into power.

Yet, just as the hardhearted in apartheid South Africa refused to listen to the protests of the oppressed, the current government appears to prefer further oppression over real dialogue and DELIVERY. It's easy to see why rhetoric around nationalising the mines is so popular. However, this path would only ensure more money going into the greedy hands of those in power of course, not to 'the people' of South Africa.

Implementation of these much-touted human rights, and the democratic principles discussed in my previous post, may be a huge challenge for this country, and there will always be many excuses (especially by the rich and comfortable) not to make the efforts and sacrifices needed. However, we are not talking about ‘optional extras’ here – we are talking basic living conditions required for people to live healthy, stable lives.

It’s time that human rights were favoured over mining rights. It's time for more action and less talk – time for seriously prioritising development of housing, healthcare, education and infrastructure (not just lip service while feathering their own nests). In other words, it’s time the South African government grew up and took its responsibilities seriously. 

Mining interests need to be constrained within the bigger picture considerations of social and environmental protection. The absurd amounts of money these corporations make means it would be easy to require them to channel more of this towards local development and social upliftment. The resources are certainly there - the question is whether the political will is there.

In my next post, I will start to dig a bit deeper into the culture and circumstances within which the Lonmin massacre took place: South Africa’s culture of violence and exploitation, and ‘structural violence’ locally and globally…


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