News / Africa

South Africa Strikers Maintain Record Strike Amid Hunger Pains

Miners on strike chant slogans as they march in Nkaneng township outside the Lonmin mine in Rustenburg May 14, 2014.
Miners on strike chant slogans as they march in Nkaneng township outside the Lonmin mine in Rustenburg May 14, 2014.
Anita Powell
Three months into the longest strike in South African history, the words "tragedy" and "disaster" are being used by both sides, as starving miners face off against their employer, platinum giant Lonmin, in a quest for higher wages.  An aid group is holding a food drive for miners in the beleaguered town of Marikana, while Lonmin's chief warned that the company itself is "bleeding." 

The windswept town of Marikana is, at the best of times, a grim place.  The company town in the middle of South Africa’s platinum belt has endless rows of small, cookie-cutter houses and lean-to metal shacks for the tens of thousands of miners who work at Lonmin’s platinum mine.

Like clockwork, legions of weary miners trudge out from underground twice a day, to be immediately replenished by the next shift.

But now, more than 16 weeks into the longest strike South Africa has ever seen, Marikana is more grim than ever before.

Business on the town’s main drag has slowed to a trickle.  Countless workers have been forced to return to their rural homes as they wait for their union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, to broker a deal with Lonmin.

Both sides are dug in deep -- AMCU says it will accept no less than a monthly wage of about $1,200.  Lonmin representatives say they can’t afford that and that the prolonged strike has left the company “bleeding.”

The industrial action -- which also affects platinum producers Implats and Amplats -- has halted about 40 percent of the world’s production of the precious metal.  This week, CEO Ben Magara warned that the drop in income might even lead to Lonmin’s death.

Lonmin bypassed the union to try to lure back employees with wage offers last week, but the attempt failed. Spokeswoman Sue Vey said the company desperately wanted the strike to end.

“The company’s suffering, employees are suffering, local businesses are suffering.  It’s not benefiting anybody.  We are at an impasse and we have to break that.  We have to come back to the table with AMCU and find resolution,” she said.

And now, as a result of this impasse, this once bustling town is seeing something it never expected: mass hunger.

In recent days, South African charity Gift of the Givers handed out meal packs, blankets and essential items for more than 1,000 families in Marikana, plus hot meals for 5,000 people. The Islamic charity’s founder, Imtiaz Sooliman, said the community reached out for help.

“There’s two things we saw: we saw dignity, and we saw desperation.  The faces, the eyes, told the whole story.  … They have lost a lot, basically all of their possessions.  They have no food.  Most of them have sold their appliances, they’ve sold their clothing, they don’t have any winter items, they don’t have baby milk, they don’t have simple things like sanitary pads or diapers.  So basically, all of the necessities of life, they’ve lost because they’ve had to sell it,” said Sooliman.

He said only one business seemed to be thriving.

“The pawn shop, apparently, in the area, says they’ve been very busy, pawning off all of these things.  And they said, look, it’s good business for them, but they’re heart-broken seeing so many families lose so many of their life’s possessions because of the strike,” said Sooliman.

Observers are also concerned that this prolonged suffering could lead to violence.  AMCU’s rival union says many of their members have been intimidated for going to work.

AMCU was involved in South Africa’s most violent industrial action in recent history, with a two-month illegal strike they launched in 2012.  That strike reached fever pitch on August 16 of that year, when South African police shot dead 34 of the strikers.

Many South Africans described the scene -- of police shooting wildly into a crowd of black protesters -- as evocative of police brutality during the apartheid era.

Vey urged the union to find a solution.  “The win-win situation would be reaching a resolution with AMCU, our majority union.  And in that way, it would be a sustainable return to work, and we predict that it would be less violent, and less intimidation and so forth,” she said.

When that may come, no one can guess. The strike continues.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

1 Billion People Used Facebook on Single Day

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised the accomplishment in a posting on the social media site More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs