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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid