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South African Striking Miners Reject Wage Offer

  • Anita Powell

Striking Lonmin Platinum miners gather in Marikana, South Africa, where a new wage offer was rejected, Sept. 14, 2012.

Striking Lonmin Platinum miners gather in Marikana, South Africa, where a new wage offer was rejected, Sept. 14, 2012.

Striking South Africa platinum mine workers have rejected a new wage offer from their employer after a five-week illegal strike that has been plagued with deadly violence. Meanwhile, South Africa’s government says it won’t tolerate any more violence or unrest.

South African officials said Friday that enough is enough after five weeks of illegal mining strikes that have led to dozens of deaths and paralyzed the nation’s most important industry.

In a statement issued Friday by the office of Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, the government said it will no longer tolerate violence and intimidation like they have seen at the Lonmin platinum mine. More than 45 people have been killed in weeks of violence over a pay dispute at that mine, located some 100 kilometers from Johannesburg.

Impact of productivity

Those weeks of violence have seriously impacted the platinum market and Lonmin’s productivity.

On Friday, Lonmin reported its worst attendance figures yet: just 0.31 percent of workers showed up. If that percentage were applied to Lonmin’s total workforce of 28,000, that means less than 90 people came to work Friday.

Government spokesman Phumla Williams says while the workers are free to strike, they need to stop intimidating and hurting others.

“We cannot allow violence to continue and innocent people being killed while they are getting on with their lives. And I’m sure you do appreciate that we do have law enforcement agencies that will ensure that safety and that the country is actually safe for every South African who wants to work," said Williams. "In South Africa people are entitled to strike within the law. People are entitled to get on with their lives and feel that their rights, that they can voice their view. But what we are not appreciating is when they do it outside of the law. For instance they cannot actually gather and have actually some people being killed."

Williams would not say what action the authorities might take, if any, against ex-youth leader Julius Malema, who earlier this week called for a national mining strike.

Malema has repeatedly called on workers to make South Africa’s mining sector “ungovernable” and calls his movement a “revolution.”

No end in sight

But the strike shows no sign of ending after workers rejected Lonmin’s initial pay offer on Friday.

The workers are demanding a raise from about $500 a month to about $1,500 - that’s about 12,500 South African rand.

Miner Gilbert Temo says his colleagues told him Lonmin offered a raise of up to 900 rand - about $100 - a month for rock drillers. Other, less skilled workers were offered a 500-rand raise.

He says workers’ demands - and reasoning - are simple. "They say they want 200 percent, not 10 percent. They say they want 12.5 [thousand rand, $1,500], not less than 12.5. So if it’s less than 12.5, they won’t take it,” he explained.

Lonmin refused to release details of their offer, but the 900-rand (about $100) offer is in line with other media reports.

Jimmy Gama, the treasurer of the union credited with starting the strike, said negotiations are still ongoing.

Gama’s Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has said the situation has escalated to the point that they now want President Jacob Zuma to call a top-level meeting.

Three major mines have been paralyzed as labor unrest has spread.

Lonmin workers launched a wildcat strike in August after union negotiations broke down. On August 16, strikers clashed with police at the mine some 100 kilometers from Johannesburg, leading police to shoot dead 34 demonstrators. The government has ordered an investigation.