News / Economy

South Africa's AMCU to Strike at World's Top Platinum Producers

Joseph Mathunjwa (R), president of South Africa's Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), arrives to address members of the mining community during a rally in Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg, Jan.19, 2014.
Joseph Mathunjwa (R), president of South Africa's Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), arrives to address members of the mining community during a rally in Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg, Jan.19, 2014.
Reuters
The main trade union for South African platinum miners will strike next week at the world's top three producers, hitting over half of global output and the margins of companies struggling to make profits.
    
A simultaneous stoppage at the three producers would hit a key South African export at a time when the rand currency is near five-year lows, and deal a fresh blow to investor confidence in Africa's biggest economy.
    
Renewed labor unrest would also be an unwelcome distraction for President Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National Congress (ANC) ahead of general elections expected in three months.
    
Members of South Africa's Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to strike at world No. 1 producer Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) in a show of hands in a stadium in the platinum belt city of Rustenburg.
    
Around 15,000 miners had piled into the stadium in a display of force ahead of the industrial action.
    
In recent days, AMCU members also voted to strike at Amplats' rivals Lonmin and Impala Platinum (Implats).
    
AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa told the rally that Amplats would be served notice of the strike action on Monday and workers would down tools on Thursday.
    
The union said last week it would do the same at Lonmin and spokesman Jimmy Gama told Reuters after the mass meeting that Implats would also get its notice on Monday.
    
"Comrades, let's intensify the struggle for a better wage," Mathunjwa, a charismatic lay preacher who has styled himself as a Christian warrior waging class war for South Africa's black workers, said to roars of approval from the crowd.
    
He earlier swept into the stadium in a brand new Lexus car, flanked by three burly white bodyguards, to a rock star welcome and wild cheers from AMCU members, most of whom were clad in the union's trademark green shirts.
    
Such a display of wealth and power is sure to be fodder for the critics of AMCU, which poached tens of thousands of members from the once unchallenged National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in part by exploiting rank and file perceptions that its rival had grown too close to management.
    
Its turf war with NUM has killed dozens of people and sparked a wave of wildcat strikes in 2012 that pushed Amplats, a unit of Anglo American, into the red that year.
    
But AMCU has been playing by the rules and has permission from a government mediator - a legal requirement in South Africa - to proceed with the strikes, provided it gives the employers notice of at least 48 hours.
    
The union conflict also has political implications as NUM is a key ally of the ANC and speakers criticized the ruling party.
    
Madiba Bukhali, a regional AMCU leader, told the rally that miners had put the ANC in parliament "but now they have forgotten us, now that they are out of this hole."
    
"Zuma, we voted for him but he has built a huge house and forgotten his neighbors," he said, referring to a $21 million state-funded security upgrade to the president's private home that has been widely criticized by the South African press and opposition parties.

Living wage 
    
At Amplats and Lonmin, the union is seeking a minimum monthly wage of 12,500 rand ($1,200) for entry-level workers - more than double current levels, under the populist battle cry of a "living wage". At Implats the union scaled back its demand late last year to just over 8,500 rand.
    
Companies have said they can ill afford steep increases as power and other costs soar against the backdrop of depressed prices for the white metal used in emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles.
    
Platinum's spot price shed 11 percent last year and is about 40 percent down from record peaks scaled in 2008.
    
AMCU is also under pressure to deliver on its promises now that it is the dominant union on the platinum belt, setting the stage for a bruising showdown between capital and labor.
    
Miners may struggle to hold out without pay if the strike becomes protracted. The typical South African mine worker has eight dependents, many of whom are peasants in rural areas far from the shafts. This stokes their demands but also means they cannot survive for long without an income.
    
But AMCU is known for its discipline and militancy.
    
Over half of global platinum supply will be halted and around two-thirds or more could be impacted if the strike includes Amplats' joint venture partners, though it is not clear if that will be the case.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9118
JPY
USD
124.31
GBP
USD
0.6420
CAD
USD
1.3048
INR
USD
64.136

Rates may not be current.