“Entangled history of violent exploitation of nature and labour in Africa”: speech from Daniel Selwyn

Good afternoon. My name is Daniel Selwyn and I’m here to represent the London-based Marikana Solidarity Collective, which includes London Mining Network, War on Want, the Pan-Afrikan Society Community Forum, the Marikana Miners Solidarity Campaign, and the collective Decolonising Environmentalism of which I am a member. Before I ask some questions about your primary platinum supplier Lonmin, I would like to pay my respects to Bishop Jo Seoka and Andries Nkome here today, who have been such tireless advocates for the Marikana community, as well as to those who cannot be here with us today: from the women of Sikhala Sonke and those left widowed by the massacre, to the mineworkers injured, illegally arrested and still imprisoned, to the millions of Africans who been murdered for the accumulation of profit over centuries. This country, as well as mine, was built on their labour and lives.

Like many of you here today, my relationship to South Africa is complex, historical and personal. As my family were dispersed from Eastern Europe by antisemitism to London and Cape Town, BASF and Lonmin were still being established in 1865 and 1909 respectively, either side of the Berlin Conference which divided the African continent between European empires in the interests of white supremacy. Lonmin was founded as Lonrho (the London & Rhodesian Mining and Land Company) as part of the expansion of settler colonialism and global capitalism across southern Africa. While members of my family were being evacuated across and outside Europe, BASF was an integral part of the IG Farben conglomerate. While my grandfather was exiled from South Africa for joining the liberation movement against the apartheid regime, BASF and Lonrho was supplying the regime with technology and weapons to circumvent international sanctions, embargoes and boycotts.  

I mention this history so that we can remind ourselves that the Marikana Massacre—and BASF and Lonmin’s roles in it—did not happen in isolation; that you don’t suddenly become one of the world’s largest chemical companies or producers of platinum by good fortune, but through the violence of extraction, through colonialism and fascism, and the extreme exploitation of African land and labour. This is the legacy I would like us to remember today as we talk about your supply chain responsibility and how you can begin to rectify these horrors in our histories. 

Now to my questions:

Do you think it is just that miners digging metals used to clean the air we breathe here in Mannheim are forced to work and live in illegally polluted conditions? Will you commit to providing the resources and technologies necessary to repair the environmental devastation in Marikana? 

Lonmin is in the process of being taken over by Sibanye-Stillwater, which has the highest number of worker fatalities across the mining sector in South Africa, with 24 deaths in 2018 alone while recording profits $107m. 12,500 jobs are scheduled to be cut in this takeover, exacerbating the already precarious conditions of the Marikana workers and community. What reassurances will BASF seek that Lonmin’s decades of unfulfilled legal obligations, and reparations and accountability for the Massacre, are accommodated for within the terms of the takeover? 

Lonmin paid $607 million in dividends to its shareholders in the four years preceding the massacre and diverted $160 million to tax havens in Bermuda. Just 20% of these dividends would have paid for 5500 affordable homes that your main platinum supplier is legally obligated to provide for its workers and the community. But in 2012 when the Massacre happened, only three, uninhabitable show-houses had been built. 

It is now 13 years since Lonmin’s Social Labour Plan was agreed. Why has your primary platinum supplier still failed to fulfil its legal obligations to its workers and the community? Do you think it is ‘socially responsible’ that the year the Massacre took place, Lonmin’s chief executive was paid 236 times more than the rock drillers on strike for a living wage were murdered for demanding? Or that the CEO of BASF is paid 135 times more, or the average executive salary here at least 20 times more? 

Why are Black lives so cheap to European capitalism? How can you claim to be a socially responsible corporation when these violent realities exists across your supply chain? 

Thank you for your attention and I look forward to your answers.

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