Strike nation – The revolution is just beginning

2012-10-13 16:47

Mining strikes may be ushering in a new era of worker empowerment and intimidation – at a very high cost

Police and striking miners at the Rustenburg mine of Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) have clashed again, this time after miners allegedly invaded a shaft and tried to set it alight.

Police fired rubber bullets at a crowd of 1 000 Amplats workers on Friday night, said North West police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane.

Ngubane said four miners had been arrested, while another 48 had been arrested in connection with two deaths in the nearby Nkaneng informal settlement.

One man was burned alive and another shot dead in Nkaneng this week as the miners’ strike continued.

Last week the company announced that it had dismissed 12 000 of its workers, who have refused to accept their dismissal.

One of the men at the centre of the crippling miners’ strikes that have gripped Rustenburg in the past two months is Mametlwe Sebei of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM).

During an interview in Johannesburg on Friday, Sebei said threats by mine bosses to fire the estimated 100 000 workers on strike across all mines could backfire.

“I do not think it would be possible to dismiss all these workers without at least precipitating this country into some elements of civil war because certainly these workers are not going to take it lying down,” said Sebei.

At Kumba Iron Ore’s Sishen Mine in the Northern Cape, messages are being sent to striking workers demanding that they attend their disciplinary hearings or face dismissal.

About 300 striking workers downed tools during Friday’s night shift and took possession of equipment worth R3.3?billion, including 88 heavy trucks.

Sebei said the DSM had been mobilising workers across Rustenburg for the past four years after realising that “their interests were not being addressed by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)”.

This week, thousands marched on the town’s NUM offices to cancel their membership.

Sebei said they advised the workers to instead join the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) and turn it into the union they want it to be.

Sebei’s activism began as a student in Ga-Nchabeleng, Limpopo, where he was born in 1981.

At the University of Pretoria, where he studied law, he was elected president of the Pan-Africanist Students’ Organisation, the Pan-Africanist Congress’ student wing.

He joined the DSM after he left the Pan-Africanist Congress in 2008 when he realised it was not going to transform into a worker’s movement and searched for a political home more suited to his ideology.

Sebei said the rebellion against the NUM started in Rustenburg because the platinum mines employed young people who did not have any historical or sentimental attachment to the NUM.

The DSM, he said, has received enquiries from other sectors seeking to build alliances for a national strike and warned that the diamond sector could be next.

Violence continued to mar the strike this week, with one man, an Amplats employee, burned to death and another shot and wounded in Nkaneng informal settlement on Thursday.

The transport workers’ strike, which ended on Friday, also claimed a life this week when Cape Town truck driver Gary Stewart’s life support machine was switched off. His skull was fractured by a rock thrown through his truck’s window.

Another Cape Town driver was doused with petrol and set alight, and remains in a critical condition in hospital.

In KwaZulu-Natal, driver Joseph Duma was shot in the leg while driving his company truck in Cato Ridge.

At the same time, another truck driver escaped unharmed after the truck he was driving was torched.

SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Neren Rau said strikes across all sectors had cost the economy close to R20 billion so far.

He said the chamber had information that the strikes would soon spread to the hospitality sector.

Strike hot spots

Additional reporting by West Cape News, Sphumelele Mngoma and Sizwe Sama Yende 

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