Workers trickle back to South Deep gold mine after 6-week strike

Striking members of the National Union of Mineworkers take their demands to Gold Fields’ head office in Sandton on 30 November 2018. Pictures: Mpumelelo Buthelezi
Striking members of the National Union of Mineworkers take their demands to Gold Fields’ head office in Sandton on 30 November 2018. Pictures: Mpumelelo Buthelezi

Employees of the South Deep gold mine are gradually returning to the mine after the nearly six-week strike ended on Wednesday.

On Thursday, 350 workers reported for duty and 650 staff showed up on Friday.

This is out of a total of about 4 000 employees, according to Sven Lunsche, spokesperson for Gold Fields - which owns the loss-making operation located west of Johannesburg.

Lunsche said there were still some people outside the South Deep gold mine that were trying to block employees from going to work and there had been reports of intimidation, but the police were helping the mine to get staff onto the mine.

He said that it was unlikely at this stage that the mine would restart production before the Christmas break.

Lunsche said that an outstanding matter was that the company and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) needed to sign a strike settlement agreement.

READ: NUM calls off strike at South Deep gold mine

The union was planning to meet with its members at the South Deep mine next week to discuss the strike settlement agreement, he added.

In a note to South Deep employees, which Gold Fields also posted online, Martin Preece, head of Gold Fields South Africa, and Benford Mokoatle, South Deep mine manager, said that: “Individuals violently tried to stop people from accessing the mine.

"Their actions are unlawful and carry significant consequences for those found guilty of being in contravention of our country’s laws and the court interdicts that South Deep has received, prohibiting violence and intimidation.

“It has also been brought to our attention that public office bearers, yesterday at a mass meeting, called for the strike to continue. The call is highly irresponsible. The company will formally lodge its objections against this behaviour in writing today.

“We must again re-iterate that South Deep faces an untenable financial position, if the 2019 business plan is not achieved. Any disruptive action has the potential to seriously jeopardise the future of the mine.”

To try and stem its losses, the South Deep mine, on August 14, announced a restructuring process that led to over 1 082 employees and 420 contractors at the operation being axed.

In response, NUM started a strike on Friday, November 2, to try and force home its demand for the job cuts to be reversed.

READ: South deep in crisis as NUM says it could strike until Easter

Differences emerged between the NUM head office and the union’s Gauteng branch on the one hand and the South Deep NUM branch on the other.

The head office and the regional branch called for the strike to be halted, while the local branch wanted to strike until Easter 2019.

NUM general-secretary, David Sipunzi, earlier this month suspended 13 members of the South Deep branch following an attack on its Gauteng regional chair, Ndlela Radebe, and the union then gave the mine notice that the strike ended with some South Deep employees returning to work.

Gold Fields had invested R32 billion, including the acquisition price of R22 billion, since taking over.

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