News / Economy

S. Africa Platinum Strike Ends, But Not Its Impact

Mineworkers dance as they gather for check-ins near Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine before returning to work, June 25, 2014.
Mineworkers dance as they gather for check-ins near Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine before returning to work, June 25, 2014.

After a five-month strike, South African platinum mine workers began returning to work Wednesday after a deal was signed to end the country's longest and costliest labor action.  South African businesses and government are struggling to find ways to cope with the impact and to avoid such prolonged stand-offs in the future.

 In Marikana, there is an atmosphere of celebration and relief at the end of the strike.  
 
On January 23 70,000 mineworkers downed their tools, demanding higher wages and benefits.  After months of stalemate, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) signed a deal June 24 with the world’s top platinum producers, Lonmin, Anglo-American Platinum and Impala Platinum, to end the crippling action.
 
Boyfie Mgiba has been working in the mines for 20 years and says for the past five months he lived hand to mouth, depending on family and charities.  
 
“That five months was tough, tough, tough, tough," he said. "Now I am very happy,” said Mgiba.

Ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, cited the costly strike as one of the main reasons South Africa’s credit rating was downgraded in May.
 
Casualties from the strike, include shop owners who say they have missed rent payments and employees’ wages, forcing some shops to close.

Taxi driver Mokhotlong believes it could take many months for some businesses to recover.
 
“Everyone is happy, everybody yeah," he said.  "Because it was not right, total.  For everybody it was very bad."
 
Many in Marikana can be seen wearing AMCU T-shirts in support of the union that negotiated the final deal for the mineworkers.  
 
The three-year deal gives mineworkers an annual pay rise of around $94 per month for the next three years.  This is about a 20 percent increase, but far less than the 100 percent the AMCU originally demanded.
 
AMCU was founded in 2001 and has steadily accumulated support, and political clout.  

“A victory for the working class,” is how union president Joseph Mathunjwa described the end of South Africa’s most costly and longest strike.
 
“I would say that this was a breakthrough we have managed to unshackle ourselves from this structure that came long from colonization to the national party, to the last 20 years of our democracy that have not been challenged, so it is a breakthrough,” he said.
 
Proudly wearing a faded green AMCU shirt, Lonmin miner Kgomotso Mothoagae says he is delighted with the deal and the struggle was well worth the reward.
 
“Joseph Mathunjwa did a very good job for the workers. It is getting more members... It is growing now AMCU, it is growing tremendously," he said. "Mathunjwa is doing a very good job.”
 
But the strike cost mining companies an estimated $2.3 billion in earnings and producers are widely expected to restructure, which will inevitably lead to job cuts and could potentially pave the way for further walk-outs.
 
The strike has had a huge impact in the country and has led to growing calls for legal "strike breaking" mechanisms to allow the courts or the state to intervene during protracted and costly strikes.

The labor court here has already blocked AMCU’s call for strikes in the gold sector.  

Economists say something needs to change.
 
“The way things should proceed is to the constitutional courts," said labor economist with Adcorp, Loane Sharp. "The constitutional courts need to produce guidelines on how to balance these rights.  

Sharp says unions in South Africa may be losing their potency, despite their latest strike victory.  
 
“In the year 2013, based on official data, union membership countrywide dropped from 3.3 million to three million, a drop of nearly 10 percent," he said. "During 2013, unions lost... [$9.3 million] in lost membership dues, due to declining membership.”
 
More trouble is on the horizon for South Africa’s government and businesses.  The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the country's biggest union with more than 200,000 members, is threatening to down tools from July 1, a move that would hinder the country's crucial auto industry. 

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7492
JPY
USD
102.27
GBP
USD
0.5960
CAD
USD
1.0950
INR
USD
61.300

Rates may not be current.