Beyond Marikana: the crisis – Storm on the platinum fields

2012-09-15 16:45

North West miners’ numbers – and discontent – have been building for months

Mine workers on the North West platinum fields say they told their families to prepare for hard times as they embarked on a strike for better wages.

Workers, disgruntled with their unions, say they have been mobilising and planning their ­action from early this year.

In February, 3 000 rock-drill operators at Impala Platinum went on an illegal strike demanding a basic salary of R9 000 a month.

On August 9, Lonmin miners downed tools after demanding a monthly wage of R12 500 during an illegal strike in which the death toll this week rose to 45.

On Friday, they rejected Lonmin’s offer of another R968 a month for the lowest-paid worker before deductions.

“We knew,” said a member of the Marikana workers’ representatives this week.

“Men were told to budget for this strike. We knew it was going to be hard, so we had to make plans.”

On Thursday, thousands of ­Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) workers near Marikana ­also went on strike, demanding a basic monthly salary of R10 000 which, when added to risk, meal, transport and medical allowances, amounts to R16 070 a month.

“We were told to send messages back home to our families. We were warned things were going to be hard because the employer is not going to just give us what we want right away,” said a 41-year-old man employed as a winch erector by Amplats in Bleskop, who takes home R5 100 a month.

When he joined the company 17 years ago as a belt supporter, he earned R1 100.

“It was better then because I had few dependants,” he said.

He now supports his wife, seven ­children, his grandfather and six unemployed siblings.

“You must be careful about every cent. Now it’s the ploughing season. People back home need fertiliser. I’m the one who must provide that. If I don’t, there will be even bigger problems next year,” he said.

As in Marikana in recent weeks, workers at Bleskop expressed dissatisfaction with the NUM, which they claim does not represent their interests.

Although a number of striking workers have worn green Amcu T-shirts, many say they belong to no union.

But this has paved the way for some to score points from workers, led by colleagues appointed in secret meetings held in defiance of union structures.

At Bleskop, an organisation calling itself the Democratic ­Socialist Movement took control of a meeting at Bleskop Stadium.

Its leader, Mametlwe Sebei, apparently a former member of the ANC Youth League, told workers that while their loved ones had no clean drinking water, mining ­executives entertained their madams in swimming pools.

He said his group aimed to bring production in the platinum fields to a halt by today.

“We are here to bury the NUM!” exclaimed another leader of the group, George Tyobeka, when asked why they gathered on Thursday morning.

Sebei said: “We are here as ­ordinary employees. We are not Amcu or NUM or anyone. We are just ordinary employees. We are debating the issue of money and nothing else.”

Most workers rejected the NUM, saying they were tired of unions.

“They always tell us about the company’s difficulties. They always tell us about the company’s problems when they are supposed to represent us,” said a 39-year-old woman who earns R5 100 a month after deductions, working over nine hours a day, six days a week.

“When you blow your nose after work, all you see is black dust. It’s killing us. We are dying for ­nothing.”

Amplats has suspended its ­Rustenburg platinum operations to “protect the safety” of ­employees.

Amplats employees have been negotiating with their bosses since July 12 and delivered a memorandum on Thursday. But the company said it would only respond on September 25.

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