South Africa has 80 percent of the world’s known stocks of platinum, but that is not nearly enough, it appears, for the London-based owners of Lonmin Marikana mine, one of the largest mining concessions there. Like so many other mining companies that have historically amassed their riches using cheap southern African labor, Lonmin has produced crushing poverty for the miners, but wealth untold for its proprietors.
On August 10, the 3,000 miners, who live in shacks with outdoor toilets, went on strike demanding a three-fold increase in their monthly salaries. Understand that to produce 1 ounce of platinum, miners have to break about 10 tons of raw ore underground using 50-pound handheld machines. It’s backbreaking work.
What followed was a nasty face-off between police and the miners, culminating in what some are calling “the Marikana massacre.” 34 people were killed in that deadly police operation on August 16 – autopsy results show they were shot in the back. A total of 44 persons have been killed so far – including two police officers and two security guards – 78 injured, and 270 arrested. But still, today, September 6, the struggle continues…
The tragedy has reminded some of the relentless brutality of apartheid, and like no other incident since the advent of majority rule in 1994, it has brought into sharp focus just how little conditions have changed for a majority of the nation’s majority black population.
Here in Belize, it makes us wonder just how Nelson Mandela must feel after all he went through to uplift the wretched conditions of his people. Mandela is an old man these days, and though he has not said anything publicly of late, it is for sure that he cannot be pleased. He did not spend 27 years of his life in prison, for things to come to this calamitous point — that is for sure.
In the case of archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, he has not been so reticent.
At a book launch in Cape Town recently, Tutu is quoted in the Tuesday, September 4 UK Guardian as asking: “Is this the kind of freedom people were tortured and people were maimed for?”
“People are going to sleep hungry,” he lamented, “in this freedom for which people were tortured and harmed…It is difficult to believe people are getting such money and benefits, and are driving such flashy cars while the masses suffer in cramped shacks…”
“Have we forgotten so soon?” asked the incensed Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
In Belize, we did not experience anything like the level of bloodshed black men, women and children had to suffer under colonialism and later under apartheid in South Africa, though our slave ancestors had to rise up in 1765, 1773, and 1820 against vicious slave masters. And after slavery, our worker ancestors had to riot in 1894, in 1919, and in 1934 and 1972. Things were not exactly a bed of roses here.
Colonialism anywhere is never a desirable condition. Revenues from the vast riches of the colonies always flowed in one direction, and that is, in the case of the British Empire, to London’s Treasury. And while they didn’t employ the tyrannical horror of King Leopold’s Congo, the British did not exactly love us here, no matter how some of our lighter brothers and sisters may want to claim and believe otherwise. The denial of freedom could never be a love affair.
Philip Goldson and George Price, our celebrated national heroes, are no longer here with us. But in this, our most patriotic and cherished month, we wonder what if Mr. Price and Mr. Goldson were still with us, or if somehow they are looking down on us, what would they think? These two, who arguably sacrificed more than any other in the building of this country, from the start of the nationalist movement to well past their prime — what would they think of Belize in 2012?
Mr. Goldson was imprisoned. He lost his family, and for years was subjected to ridicule in the parliament as the sole standard-bearer against a powerful government. For him, making concessions to Guatemala was unthinkable, indefensible. For him, Belize was everything. This was all he had, all he ever wanted.
Mr. Price gave just about everything he had to the cause of independence. He never took a family. Belize was his family. He persevered where others faltered. He endured while others withered. He was steadfast in his belief that we should exercise self-determination and become an independent nation.
Together these two men, along with John Smith, Leigh Richardson and Nicholas Pollard, formed the People’s Committee, and in September of 1950 officially founded the People’s United Party. It is said that in the foggy uncertainties of politics, you cannot always tell friend from foe, peace from peril, yet these two persevered, like no other – before or after them. Though they ended up on different sides, they shared a common love for Belize.
Both men died with nothing of personal material consequence, after giving practically their entire lives to public service. They left, as they came, with nothing.
We wonder what they would think if they knew that 30,000 of our school-aged children are not in school today.
We wonder what they would think if they knew that the government-owned water company was denying our neediest residents water, that most essential of substances.
Would they think that all they had sacrificed was in vain if they knew that our children were killing each other so mercilessly almost every day, with no perceived end in sight?
What would they think if they knew that a young man was shot in the neck Thursday night, and while lying in a comatose condition in the hospital the following day, Friday, he was fired from his government-issued job?
And what would they think if they knew that BSI is on the brink of returning to the hands of the 2012 version of Tate and Lyle – that our exotic woods, like our rosewood, are still leaving our shores in barges destined for foreign lands, while we cop a mere pittance in return? What would they think?
Considering all these two men, and others, endured to make our nation-state an oasis of peace in a region once ravaged by revolution and civil war, we must seek always to honor their memory, to ensure that all they suffered and sacrificed was not in vain.
Our present leaders must wonder, always, what would these two men think?
This September, while we pay tribute to the Battle of St. George’s Caye and our Independence, respectively, we should pause for a moment, in the middle of the bacchanal, and reflect on where we are as a nation. Is this what these two good and gentle men fought for?
It is their uncommon love for country that we too must manifest. Loving Belize should mean we help up the least among us. It means being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. It should mean not conceding an inch of our territory, whether militarily or diplomatically or unwittingly. And it should mean putting the proverbial flesh to the bone of political independence.
We are duty-bound to honor the memories of these honorable gentlemen, so that they may truly rest in peace. It is written.