From Marikana to London. The Anti-Blackness of Mining Finance
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On the 16th of August 2012, thirty-four striking mineworkers were shot dead by police forces in Marikana in South Africa during a strike against Lonmin, a British mining company. The massacre was reminiscent of the days of apartheid, and while the ‘rainbow nation’ narrative of post-apartheid South Africa had long been under pressure, what happened in Marikana represented a definite point of rupture. How could this take place under a government led by the African National Congress – the former liberation movement?
This thesis takes the Marikana massacre as its point of departure, but in order to understand how it could happen, I ask whether there are pieces of the puzzle to be found outside the spatial and temporal boundaries of contemporary South Africa. Given that Lonmin has its main listing on the London Stock Exchange, the connection between the mining sector in South Africa and the finance sector in London appeared as one such missing piece of the puzzle. Based on 14 months of fieldwork in London, Cape Town and Johannesburg, this thesis presents an ethnography of mining finance, based on participatory observation and interviews with investment bankers, fund managers and mining specialists within the field of mining finance. However, going beyond the contemporary connection to mining finance in London, there is a longer historical trajectory of this connection that goes back to the late 19th Century and the early establishment of the mining industry in South Africa. This historical connection is probed to ask whether the Marikana massacre carries in it particular traces of this past – a past that, rather than passing, accumulates. What I found drawing on my ethnographic material of contemporary mining finance as well as by carrying out a historical comparison, is, firstly, that mining finance can be seen to operate on the basis of what I term ‘blindsight’. This term is employed to analytically capture the fact that financial investments into mining are made in a manner that are, allegedly, blind to ‘race’, but which nonetheless re-entrench historically produced patterns of racialized capital accumulation. Secondly, my ethnography also shows the complex temporalities of mining finance, which I describe and analyse as ‘extractive temporalities’. Far from being straightforward linear temporalities concerned only with the future accumulation of profits, extractive temporalities contain contradictory relations to the past and future. These temporalities are shaped both by the boom and bust nature of mining finance as well as by the tensions between its globalizing impulse and the way in which mining itself is quite literally firmly tied to the ground.
Beyond the historical and contemporary connections between mining finance in London and the political economy of South Africa, this thesis probes whether there are fundamental questions that a political economy frame of analysis is unable to examine. If, as I argue in the chapter on the Marikana massacre, there was a particular relevance to the fact that all the striking miners who were killed were black, and that the mining sector is one based specifically on an anti-black form of capital accumulation, which I show in the historical comparison, then the question of what the relationship is between finance capital and racial violence becomes central. In the final section of the thesis, I therefore analyse British financial capital and, first, argue that from its early expansion in the 18th Century based on the credit needs of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, it relied on various forms of racial violence. Second, I argue that the way in which the expansion of finance capital relied and continues to rely on racial violence cannot be understood without taking into consideration the way in which European modern ideas about ‘the human’ relied on a construction of blackness and the figure of the black slave as its Manichean opposite. Delving into an analysis of such a Manichean trajectory, I rely on critical race theories, which posit that European modernity and its construction of a modern subject, was always already premised on what Denise Ferreira da Silva (2007) calls an analytics of raciality, or in Fanon´s terms, a rendering of blacks within a ‘zone of non-being’.
The theoretical contribution of this thesis primarily lies in this attempt to think my ethnography in the interstices between this type of reading of European modernity on the one hand, and longue durée perspectives within political economy and historical anthropology and sociology on the other. While an analysis of the political economy of mining finance is necessary, I argue that it is insufficient and requires a deeper probing and unsettling of some foundational categories of thought to understand the ways in which finance and racial violence are intertwined.
Reading the Marikana massacre beyond the spatial and temporal boundaries of contemporary South Africa, I argue that it can be read as an instantiation of how the expansion of European finance capital still rests on a particular notion of ‘the human’, which despite the supposed colour-blindness of mining financiers, renders black mineworkers exposed to gratuitous violence within an anti-black system of capital accumulation.