Mines unrest: Politics overtakes genuine issues

2012-09-10 22:39
Marikana striker (File, AFP)

Marikana striker (File, AFP)

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Johannesburg - An academic says the growing labour disputes in the mining sector appear linked to political developments in the country as the African National congress gears up for its crucial elective conference in Mangaung in December where the party will pick the person who will run, and in all likelihood win, the 2014 presidential election.

"It's almost become contagious," said Crispen Chinguno of the sociology department at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

"Although workers have genuine labour grievances, it's gone well beyond labour unrest.

"Some politicians are hijacking the disgruntlement among the workers because the mining sector is at the core of political, social and economic order in South Africa," he said.

Former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema has in recent weeks been inciting mine workers to make mines ungovernable and dump unions in wage negotiations, in the aftermath of the shooting of 34 striking workers at Lonmin's Marikana mine by police.

At a memorial service for the miners, he accused members of government of only attending to pose for news cameras, and claimed that they didn't do anything for the slain workers.

"The reason our government is failing to intervene in the mines is because our leaders are involved and benefitting with white people," he said.

Not long afterwards, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the mine tragedy had been hijacked by "counter-revolutionaries" who wish to undermine the tripartite alliance.

A war of words also ensued between Malema and Congress of South African Trade Unions' president Sdumo Dlamini who claimed Malema was using death and misery in an attempt to make a comeback to mainstream politics.

"That boy is walking on the bodies of all the people who were killed there [at Marikana]. He is expelled, derogatory, [a] renegade loose cannon. Who is Julius Malema?"

But Malema since addressed disgruntled workers at the Aurora mine in Grootvlei, Springs, as well as Gold Fields' KDC gold mine in Westonaria.

At Grootvlei he promised to lead a revolution which he said would make all mines in the country ungovernable.

"We are going to lead a mining revolution in this country... We will run these mines ungovernable until the boers come to the table," he told workers.

"We want them to give you a minimum wage of R12 500. These people can afford R12 500. Mining in South Africa amounts to trillions of rands."

He said: "Every mine has a politician inside. They give them money every month, they call it shares. But it is [a] protection fee, to protect whites against the workers."

Blacks were worse off than during the apartheid years, he said.

"We are being killed by our own people. We are being oppressed by our own government."

Last week he told workers at Gold Fields' KDC mine: "Leaders of the NUM [National Union of Mineworkers] should know that you can't act for workers without consulting them, and don't take workers for granted."

"If they fail you, you must lead yourself."

On Monday, 15 000 Gold Fields workers downed tools at the mine, demanding the removal of their local union leadership and asking for tax-free bonuses.

Guarantees

The stoppage comes exactly a month after the deadly strike was launched at Lonmin's Marikana mine.

The Gold Fields strike started off when the night shift did not report for duty on Sunday.

"They are demanding the removal of NUM branch leadership," Gold Fields spokesperson Sven Lunsche told AFP.

"There is also a demand to lower tax on wages."

The strike at Gold Fields was the second in two weeks at the world's fourth largest gold producer.

"Employees of the west section of the KDC Gold Mine... on the West Rand in South Africa have been engaging in an unlawful and unprotected strike since the start of the night shift" on Sunday evening, Gold Fields said in a statement.

A strike by 12 000 mine workers at KDC's east section near Johannesburg ended on 5 September after a seven-day stayaway. The workers had also demanded a change in leadership at their local NUM branch.

Meanwhile the strike at Lonmin clocked one month on Monday as ten thousand armed platinum miners marched and chanted songs against President Jacob Zuma.

Just slightly more than 6% of the workers turned up for the job on Monday as strikers muscled into mine shafts to force them to shut.

Michael Kahabo, a striker, said they want all work at the mine to shut down. "It's a small percentage but they must stop working, to join the strike."

Wage talks due to start on Monday had to be adjourned as mediators waited for non-unionised workers' representatives to show up, said Lonmin spokesperson Sue Vey.

One leader reached by phone said they were not ready to attend the talks until there was a guarantee that demands for a threefold increase in pay would be discussed.

They also refused to sign a peace deal last Thursday when Lonmin management and most unions agreed to restore calm.

"If they say we are going talk about money, yes we will go. But if it's this peace accord, we don't have anything to do with the peace agreement because we don't benefit from it," Molisi Phele told AFP.

Read more on:    gold fields  |  lonmin  |  ancyl  |  anc  |  mahikeng  |  mining unrest  |  politics  |  labour
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