Constructing and Contesting the Post-Apartheid State: Political Discourse and the Marikana Strike

Meghan Tinsley

The University of Manchester, Department of Sociology, Arthur Lewis Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, United Kingdom, 


In August 2012, the police massacre of thirty-four workers during a strike in Marikana, South Africa highlighted the interconnectedness of political power, state violence, and capitalism. Taking as its starting point the sweeping ramifications of the Marikana strike, this article asks how the state attempted to restore its moral authority amidst a grassroots social movement. The methodology consists of a critical political discourse analysis of references to Marikana by members of the national ANC government, as well as dissenting voices in rival political movements, between August 16, 2012, when the massacre took place, and June 30, 2015, five days after the release of the Farlam Commission report. This paper argues, from a critical realist standpoint, that the power of political discourse lies not in the text itself, but in the speaker’s intentions, the audience’s interpretations, and the public’s responses. Such a framing reveals the systems of domination underlying all discourse, such that varied, malleable concepts produce visible, violent social structures. It finds that in the aftermath of Marikana, the national ANC government, faced with comparisons to the apartheid regime, represented itself as both the voice of the marginalized and an impartial mediator between competing narratives. This approach stood in contrast to counter-discourses, particularly that of Numsa, that positioned the state in opposition to the oppressed working class. These two discourses reflect divergent understandings of the nation at large. Ultimately, the ANC’s conciliatory approach failed to address many of the strikers’ grievances, creating a vacuum in political discourse that increasingly is filled by anti-capitalist voices from below.

Keywords: South Africa, Protest, Political discourse, Critical realism.


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