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

Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving

Feasts centering on turkeys with an array of traditional sides and desserts are part of the holiday's traditions, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid