Mine killings lay bare violent inter-union rivalry

2012-08-25 21:00

Johannesburg - The deadly protests last week at Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana have laid bare a fierce and violent battle for domination among trade unions.

The killing of 44 people during an illegalt strike at the Marikana mine highlighted the depth of internal politics between the main and three-decades old National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the 11-year-old Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

The NUM has come under fire from workers accusing it of being alienated from day-to-day shop floor issues and having too cosy a relationship with management.

Boasting a membership of 300 000, NUM is the largest single affiliate of the 2.2 million-strong umbrella union Cosatu.

'Working class aristocracy'

Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo, a researcher with the Institute of Security Studies said: "Some have argued that Cosatu ...have largely come to represent a 'working class aristocracy' and are too involved in ANC elite politics to adequately work in the interest of the poor."

Some disgruntled NUM activists broke away to form a splinter independent union, Amcu in a bid to close the gap.

But it is only in recent months that Amcu appeared to have consolidated its position. It quickly gained ground early this year after a six-week violent strike at Impala Platinum mine, the world's second largest, sitting on the same platinum belt as Lonmin.

About 17 000 workers were sacked during the strike but then re-instated, after which Amcu said it had stripped most of the NUM membership to claim more than 50% on the register and demanded recognition.

For a union to be recognised by law for collective bargaining purposes, it has to attain a membership of more than 50% of the workforce.

Violence and intimidation have become a culture to coerce workers to take part in strikes or join unions.

'Violence becomes a tool'

Unions survive on workers' subscriptions, often calculated as a percentage of their salaries.

The two unions denied being behind the deadly protests at Lonimn mine. ISS also said the strike was started by non-unionised labour.

But the Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa, accompanied by a group of praise singers, stormed into a memorial service organised for the victims of the Lonmin killings on Thursday and was given a platform to address mourners.

Some of the songs sung during the violent protests staged on a hill in Marikana town, were anti NUM.

"It's very difficult to build a very strong worker solidarity... so you use violence to bring them together. Violence becomes a tool to achieve worker solidarity," said Crispen Chinguno, an industrial relations researcher at the University of Witwatersrand.

The violence can be linked to the post-apartheid social order, which Chinguno said bred strong trade unions, that are "covertly hostile to competition".

Workers, many of them unskilled, have openly changed allegiance to Amcu.

"I stopped being a member of the NUM because ...every day, when we're in the strikes like this, they just told us 'go back to work' without any reason, without any answer that can satisfy us," said Joseph Motingwe, who defected to Amcu three years ago.

Belief in muti was partly blamed for the workers' defiance during a standoff with police before 34 of them were gunned down.

Media reported that a video shot by the police from a helicopter during the strike, showed naked men lining up to be rubbed with herbs that were believed would make them bullet-proof.

"The use of muti has become so institutionalised in everything they [unions] do," said Chinguno.

He said some of the 17 000 workers sacked and later reinstated at Impala believed they regained their jobs thanks to muti.

  • squeegee.pilot - 2012-08-25 21:06

    This, rather than a dead rabbit, is the root cause for these deaths.

  • larry.piggott1 - 2012-08-25 21:08

    It also lays bare a total lack of leadership from our Government, who wil use every trick in the book to slide out from under this pile of S**t.l

      diegofrank.faul - 2012-08-25 21:58

      did government tell lonmin to pay crap

  • nicholas.graan - 2012-08-25 21:27

    These unions always make out as if it is the welfare of the workers they care about, its more about the membership fees they care about hence the fighting.

  • diegofrank.faul - 2012-08-25 21:57

    companies are making this just about the unions they forget that they are also not paying people that is why people need unions. if you pay somone R4000 for that kind of work do you really expect them to ascept those conditions forever. business are just shifting blame to the unions to avoid their responsibility. the impala strated when impala paid some of the guys higher wages those thate were not striked. were was the union rivally. this is not only about union money but about companies that treat their workers badly and blame unions in the end

      pieter.calitz - 2012-08-25 22:07

      R10 000 (not R 4000)

  • Billy - 2012-08-25 22:12

    inter-union rivalry? isnt this what escalated the problem in the first place? these unions act like gangs, they have no real idea how to represent their members, instead they lead them into a hail of gunfire.

  • john.barbarian.9 - 2012-08-25 22:21

    Labor unions and employees associations fighting for territories.....hmmm. We all know the power of unions. We dont need to refresh our memories about Alphonso(Scarface)Capone and how syndicates in Chicago was born. The price of this "protection" is always the blood of the working class. According to historical facts...we are 100 years behind, that's for sure.

  • Stewart Croucamp - 2012-08-25 22:42

    If a civil war breaks out I must remember to rub myself with herbs and not to chase the rabbits

  • Rolisizwe Lunika - 2012-08-25 22:49


  • Rolisizwe Lunika - 2012-08-25 23:30

    I had followed this story with interest like any other story that makes headline,I had picked up that the majority of views is that the miners deserved what happened to them,I agree they were wrong and had no respect for the law even killed 4 law enforcement officer(2 Cops and 2 Securities),however the Cops wont get any Medals for killing so many either,I mean they could have saved a life or 2 had they stopped shooting quicker as soon as they realized the miners were now running away,,But what is even more sad is the way people comment on this website,the way we always insult and attack those of a different race,be it mine killings or farm killings people always show very little sympathy if those killed are not their own race,Let us show leadership it has to start somewhere,let us forget that we are black or white and unite towards building this country

  • digger.dighead - 2012-08-26 01:44

    Bottom line, if you act like animals and can't protest in an acceptable manner and then attack the police you will be shot. It is quite embarrassing the mentality of these individuals with the rabbit thing and all.

  • punungwe - 2012-08-26 07:36

    It looks like it's a case of the Sangoma is always right. Instead of blaming the fib told by a Sangoma, that a micrometer thin layer of herbs would make them invincible to very high velocity metal bullets, workers are blaming their colleagues who chased and killed a rabbit (probably for the pot) earlier in the day, as what caused the sangoma's muti not to work. The sangoma is actually being given credit for 'reducing' the number of deaths. People, I throw down my spears. For once I am at a total loss of words. How on earth can you apply logical reasoning to this scenario?

  • dnxumalo2 - 2012-08-26 08:04

    yes, thats if the unions opened fire on the miners.we are in a police state.

  • raulcharliebravo - 2012-08-26 11:46

    Back to the Stone Age?Renaissance? These are the facts that are often hidden from the world and the media has some responsability in it.

  • andrew.mackie.90 - 2012-08-26 11:47

    About time the Unions must accept most of the responsibility for the slayings at Lonmin Marikana. For years now when rival unions are pitted together mayhem and civil disorder erupts with dire consquences for those caught in the middle. How does this happen in a so called democracy? Simple, because of a weak government who allowed the Unions to dictate policy on many issues of labour.

  • pages:
  • 1