Marikana and Beyond: New Dynamics in Strikes in South Africa

Edward Webster


Political and social change in South Africa has been crucially shaped by large-scale strikes that have often taken a violent form. In spite of South Africa establishing a constitutional democracy in 1994 – and a new vision of industrial relations – violence has become so entangled in institutional life that South Africa has been described as a “violent democracy”. The massacre of thirty-four striking workers by heavily-armed police at Marikana in August 2012 was a culmination of this trajectory. The article explores the possibility of a nonviolent resolution of industrial disputes. This would require the capability of unions to recognise and strategically use the four dimensions of union power: structural, institutional, associational and societal. Without such capabilities, power resources may go unutilised, or be strategically ineffective. The article argues that in post-apartheid South Africa, associational power has become disconnected from institutional power. Instead of a vital interaction between the two, the institutions created by the new labour regime have become disconnected from the organisations that created them.

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Edward Webster
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
South Africa

Edward Webster is Professor Emeritus  in the Society Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at the U:niversity of the Witwatersrand.