News / Africa

Pressure, Tension Grow in South Africa Miners' Strike

Striking miners gather gathered at the Wonderkop Stadium in Marikana as they wait for Association of Mine workers and construction Union's president Joseph Mathunjwa to address them on May 14, 2014 in Marikana, South Africa.
Striking miners gather gathered at the Wonderkop Stadium in Marikana as they wait for Association of Mine workers and construction Union's president Joseph Mathunjwa to address them on May 14, 2014 in Marikana, South Africa.
Anita Powell
South Africa’s largest platinum producer tried, and failed, to break the nation’s longest-ever strike this week, with an attempt to lure miners back after 16 weeks.  The head of the union leading the strike urged workers to stay firm as tensions rose in the mining town of Marikana.

The thousands of miners who showed up Wednesday at the main stadium near Lonmin’s platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa, were not there to return to work, as their employer had hoped.

Instead, they were there to show their resolve. The strike in South Africa’s platinum sector has gone on for a record-breaking 16 weeks, making this the longest, and costliest, strike in the nation’s history. Led by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, the walkout has halted about 40 percent of the world’s production of the precious metal.

The union shows no signs of giving up, with its leader urging those thousands of members to “stay strong” and maintain the union’s firm demand of a basic wage of just more than $1,200 per month.

That is the same amount the AMCU asked for in 2012 when it was a minority union and launched an illegal strike against Lonmin, in the process gaining members from the then-larger National Union of Mineworkers. That nearly two-month strike reached fever pitch on August 16 of that year, when South African police shot dead 34 striking miners.

This time, police spokesman Thulani Ngubane said the scene in Marikana was peaceful, but was visibly annoyed when asked what police were doing to prevent a repeat of the 2012 violence.

“We do not have a crystal ball, we do not know what tomorrow holds," he said. "But we are doing our work to the best of our ability, and what we are doing is we have flooded the area with police.”

Ngubane said there were no reported incidents of violence, but the head of the rival National Union of Mineworkers, Frans Baleni, said his members had been intimidated.

“We are concerned about the current instability, especially violence," he said. "We condemn the current violence, whereby some workers’ rights are being violated if they [are] not intending to participate in the strike.”

This time around, it appears to be a game of attrition, with the workers caught in the middle. The economy of the town of Marikana, which surrounds Lonmin’s mine, has withered noticeably, as stores have closed and many of the 70,000 striking workers have returned to their rural homes.

AMCU officials did not respond to repeated calls Thursday seeking comment about their strategy.

The three main platinum producers affected by the strike, Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin, have bypassed the union and approached the workers directly with offers of pay raises of up to 10 percent.

None of the three platinum producers or their media representative responded to several calls seeking comment.  But the three said this week in a joint statement that they want the strike to end, and their offer directly to workers was “fair, affordable and sustainable.”

The ongoing strikes have also served to underscore the deep inequality that continues to plague this mineral-rich nation. The strike has also prompted President Jacob Zuma to accuse the union of being “irresponsible” and to call for miners to return to work.

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Comment Sorting
by: Charles Palmer-Allen from: Pretoria South Africa
June 19, 2014 12:05 AM
As a former miner who worked long hours in the heat, dust and dangers of underground, I believe the wages of what the striking miners are demanding is way too low. Working underground is no joke and it is extremely stressful hard work, more than any other work that is done on surface. I agree with every striking miner and they deserve decent wages. Those who disagree should just work underground for one month and I can without doubt say that they will then also agree that miners should be paid much more than what they are demanding. Daily their health is effected, their lives are at risk and they work long hours, just for the sake of the economy where no one actually cares. The CEO of the mining group is paid millions a year whille he sits in an airconditioned office enjoying cookies and a cup of tea. Miners pay his salary and it is the miners who fill the pockets of the investers.

by: john from: san diego
May 15, 2014 5:59 PM
Pay the people a living wage!

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