Beyond Marikana: the crisis – Miners draw battle lines to shut down shafts

2012-09-15 16:56

“Azikho lo muntu thina yilwa na yena (We’re not fighting with anyone),” one of the leaders of the striking Lonmin miners told his boss in Fanagalo, the unofficial language on South Africa’s mines.

They worked together five weeks ago, but on Wednesday, heavily armed security guards behind barbed wire and locked gates­ separated them.

Loyiso Mtsheketshe, known to his striking colleagues as “Naido”, took on the leadership of the advance group of more than 5 000 striking miners on Wednesday.

His predecessor was Mgcineni Noki, popularly known as Mambush or “The Man in the Green Blanket”, who led the march before he was killed on August 16.

In a warlike formation, the mineworkers marched in groups of a few hundred, each with its own leaders and battle songs.

They marched to a number of Lonmin shafts to warn managers that production must stop as ­non-striking workers risked their lives when returning to mine ­hostels and their shacks in the Nkaneng informal settlement.

The march followed the brutal murder of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) shop steward Dumisani Mthinti a day earlier. Mthinti, known to colleagues as “Mhlabeli”, was found dead during a march on Tuesday with deep gashes to his head.

The 51-year-old from Mbizana in Eastern Cape decided to join the wildcat strike, a move some workers said put him at great risk.

“He shouldn’t have joined the strike because he knew workers were against the NUM,” said one of the few miners prepared to talk about his murder.

The NUM office in Marikana has been closed since the strike began and the union’s

local leaders have not been seen.

Mtsheketshe said the reason striking workers wanted shafts to close was that workers were being assaulted and injured for personal issues, which were then blamed on those participating in the strike.

“Wena nyanisile (that’s true),” said a Rowland shaft manager, who identified himself as Etienne, in Fanagalo.

“It’s only essential services workers here, pumping out water. We can’t leave shafts without clearing water.”

But Mtsheketshe’s fellow workers’ committee member threatened to “burn these shafts” and “ensure that no one goes to work”.

Workers later marched to one of Lonmin’s Marikana storage facilities to demand that no cars should be permitted at shafts.

“No shaft or smelter must be working,” said Mtsheketshe.

Bishop Jo Seoka, the president of the SA Council of Churches, one of the clerics who has tried to intervene in the five-week strike, pleaded with the miners to stop carrying pangas, which he said sent out the wrong message, and carry knobkerries instead.

Another cleric, Methodist Bishop Paul Verryn, secured a meeting with shaft managers on Friday but workers ordered Lonmin managers not to bring the company’s vice-president for human resources, Bernard Mokoena.

Striking workers have accused Mokoena of lying and failing to ­relay messages to his bosses in ­Joburg.

Verryn said mine management declined to meet the church delegation on Friday due to the ­ongoing wage negotiations.

Meanwhile, Lonmin has beefed up its security, hiring the Protea Coin Group to guard its premises.

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