Marikana and Beyond: New Dynamics in Strikes in South Africa

  • Edward Webster University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg


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.

Author Biography

Edward Webster, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

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