Yes the platinum belt strike is political Mr Mantashe

2014-06-10 10:27

Some bizarre and baffling statements have been made about the ongoing strike in the platinum belt, which is said to be affecting about 40% of global platinum production. The most unfortunate remarks have come from the ruling liberation party, the ANC, which in its quest to deligitimise the union that is leading the strike, AMCU (a rival of the ANC aligned NUM), has fallen prey into speaking the language of mining magnates and international investors.

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC met over the weekend and conducted the bulk of its analysis of the strike through a prism of conspiracy theories and polluted politics of hatred for a truly multiparty society. It must be made very clear that the platinum strike is a political action. The miners are fighting for the realization of their socioeconomic rights and a reorganization of an industry that has its current anatomy born from the womb of colonialism and apartheid. The ANC has seemingly taken a position – anyone who agitates for the liberation of people from the yoke of capitalism is agent provocateur determined to destabilize the economy and peace of the country.

In the imagination of leaders such as Gwede Mantashe, only the ANC must determine when people should agitate for their ultimate liberation and the ANC alone can set the agenda for such liberation. This twisted logic demonstrates the poverty of thought that has engulfed the organisation to the detriment of South Africans. Basic consciousness reveals that the attainment of socioeconomic rights is only possible through political intervention, as the invisible hand of capitalism has – over the years – proven to only function as a conveyor belt for the reproduction of inequality across the world. All societies that have reduced their inequality have relied on political interventions through government legislation and not the benevolence of the free market economy.

The ANC’s eyes are mystified and the crumbs that senior leaders are feasting on through consortiums that own BEE stakes in the multinational corporate companies cloud its judgment on issues that affect the majority of South Africans. Thus, the ‘once upon a time’ freedom fighters who once relied on strikes for the attainment of our political freedom now find it difficult to tolerate strikes due to their shareholding interests in the affected companies.

Mantashe questioned the motives of the strike and indicated that the political support given by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and some few white international individuals was sign enough of external forces seeking to destabilize the country. As a result, the ANC Minister of Mineral Resources has pulled out of his self-initiated efforts to try finding a solution between parties that have failed to find each other for the past 21 weeks. It is now clear that the Minister was puffing hot air when he came into office making the right noises but lacking the acumen to implement and get results. He has failed before even signing a performance agreement with the president.

The striking mineworkers have become a scapegoat for many who have contributed in the stagnation of our economy. Almost with disdain, privileged people across the racial divide are labeling the mineworkers as being impossible, uneducated and unskilled labourers who are not realistic in their demands. The preoccupation of our government and privileged citizens is to see the sustenance of investor confidence in our economy even if this is to the detriment of people who are being underpaid.

The arrogance of the investors was displayed when Chris Griffith, CEO of Anglo American Platinum, described the strike as nonsense. It is important to note that he apologised for his choice of words and timing of his statement but not the sentiments expressed through his message. Justifying his total remuneration package of R17.6m in 2013, Griffith said, “Am I getting paid on a fair basis for what I’m having to deal with in this company? Must I run this company and deal with all this nonsense for nothing? I’m at work. I’m not on strike. I’m not demanding to be paid what I’m not worth”. Why would anyone earning your money be on strike Mr. Griffith?

The last part of his statement is incisively telling – AMCU is demanding what is beyond the worth of mineworkers. It is not about the inability to afford what is being demanded but the lack of worth for what is being proposed. The R12 500 entry-level basic salary by 2017 is seen as too high a demand yet there is no mine without rock drill operators (RDOs). I also wish to dispute the insistence that RDOs are unskilled people. An RDO with 12-years experience has more practical geology knowledge about a specific section of a particular shaft than some geologists with five years in the industry.

Because the RDO has been on the rock face, drilling almost every day – usually in the same section – that RDO becomes familiar with the behaviour of the reef as it rolls and/or is intercepted by dykes. Through experience, he is able to anticipate the manner in which drilling and blasting should be effected for maximum yields. An incompetent RDO frustrates production as the optimum blast is attained when RDOs drill to the required angles given the prevailing rock dynamics. This must be achieved using drills that are power and energy demanding on the RDOs due to these drills being operated with compressed air and/or high-pressure water.

The mineworkers’ wage should also include risk compensation in their wages as they descend on every shift to the belly of the earth. However, Lonmin CEO Ben Magara dismissed this systematically in an interview with eNCA by citing that all human beings are at risks even when travelling by road as they could encounter a car accident. This is mischievous. The risk factor on the human life of those working underground is higher and deserves compensation. Having been 1.6km underground on various shifts doing some work on one of the Impala Platinum shafts in Rustenburg I can attest to the brutality of the working conditions faced by RDOs and the high competence demanded by their jobs. What they are being paid currently is definitely not their worth.

The struggle for a decent wage in the platinum and gold sectors especially, must be intensified. I had hoped that Ben Magara, as former CEO of Anglo Coal (SA), would be part of unearthing the poor working and living conditions in the platinum sector, especially at Lonmin, when compared to those of mineworkers in the coal sector. Instead, he has become co-opted very quickly into the oppressive mentality and has ceased to be the fresh-air some anticipated him to be in the platinum sector.

The strike in the platinum belt must continue to receive both political and international support for it to yield results. It was through boycotts, sanctions and disinvestment that the ANC and other liberation formations brought the apartheid government to its knees. Those who continue to use conventional economic theories that are created for the purpose of sustaining capitalism are also fuelling the drivel that the mineworkers are asking more than their worth.

We need to imagine a mining industry (especially the platinum and gold sectors) with a new ethos that is aligned to the vision and dictates of the democratic South Africa whereby the dignity of all people is protected. It cannot be that the attainment of excessive profits remains the epicenter of the mining industry even in a democratic South Africa.

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