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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs