Platinum Miners

by Aug 20, 2012All Articles

Platinum miners ‘will pay for their sins’ by André Janse van Vuuren

LONMIN and the other major platinum producers of North West will bear the brunt of more violent community protests for as long as discontent over employment, poor service delivery and the harmful social consequences of mining in these areas are not addressed.

This is according to the Bench Marks Foundation, which on Tuesday released the findings of its Policy Gap 6 study. The study is a follow-up investigation into a controversial 2007 report which showed that despite the value extracted from platinum mining, local communities were facing harmful social, economic and environmental impacts as a consequence.

According to the latest study, the situation has not changed and mining companies have yet to assume their responsibility for the negative consequences of their mining activities.

The North West University’s David van Wyk, researcher and author of the report, said a likely cause for the unwillingness of both mining companies and the various spheres of Government to address these issues was what he called “political pollution”; a situation where prominent politicians and their families were sitting on the boards of mining companies, serving the interests of shareholders rather than the communities.

The study focused on the activities of the six major mining group operating in North West – Anglo American Platinum, Lonmin, Impala Platinum, Xstrata, Aquarius Platinum and Royal Bafokeng Platinum – making recommendations for each one on how they should negate the impacts of mining in the areas where they operate.

Lonmin, currently the subject of major labour violence that has so far claimed the lives of at least nine people, has been fingered for its employees’ poor residential conditions.

“This can be seen in the proliferation of shacks and informal settlements, the rapid deterioration of formal infra-structure and housing in Marikana itself, and the fact that a section of the township constructed by Lonmin did not have electricity for more than a month during the time of our last visit,” the report read. “At the RDP township we found broken-down drainage systems spilling directly into the river at three different points.”

The report also said the Foundation was concerned about the appearance of bilharzia warning signs next to surface water streams in Marikana. “The presence of bilharzia in the surface water in the Bojanala District is a direct consequence of informal settlement, a major cause of which is the housing policies of mining companies, and failure to maintain and repair sewage and drainage systems by local government.”

Lonmin was also singled out over its use of local chiefs or councillors as recruitment officers, where especially prospective female workers have to offer sex or money in return for employment.

The report also highlighted the cracks in community upliftment plans. For example, it said, all the mines surveyed contributed to the construction of classroom blocks and in some cases, to feeding schemes. However, said the Foundation’s Executive Director, John Capel, this was often done in a haphazard manner, without careful planning and consultation and often with no follow-up funding.

“The actual needs of the community and the resources available to continue the project are hardly ever taken into consideration, leading to numerous failed investments,” Capel said.

He said at the Lonmin supported school in Marikana, the research team found several blocks of old asbestos classrooms still in existence. The report also quotes an example of a computer centre that was built by Amplats.

“Although a wonderful initiative, the mine did not check whether there would be funding for a teacher,” it read. “The school has a fully equipped computer centre that cannot be used as the Department of Education considers the employment of a computer teacher at the school to be an unfunded mandate.”

Tue, 14 Aug 2012


Immediate intra-labour conflict (warning – a blame-the-victim angle in parts): Lonmin crisis: A tinderbox of discontent by Kwanele Sosibo

Violence has become the modus operandi of such strikes in South Africa and Lonmin is no exception, writes Kwanele Sosibo.

It was only late on Wednesday afternoon, with the sun disappearing behind the koppie where about 3 000 striking Lonmin workers had set up camp that any telling action transpired.

A media circus had been perched all day on the open veld to the west of the Nkanini informal settlement, where some of the workers live in appalling conditions. The journalists, right behind the 30 vehicle police laager arranged about 150m from the miners, had their eyes trained on the “action” while their cars faced the opposite direction, ready for flight should the need arise.

Wednesday, however, presented no violence in the week-long strike on one of Lonmin’s three mining operations. With disarmament negotiations collapsing earlier in the day and the miners now expressing their defiance through spirited song, the air was that of a colonial era military standoff – guns versus spears – and yet one could not shake the feeling that the day was being wasted by empty posturing on both sides.

Then, at about 5.30pm, a convoy of cars bearing National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana arrived and parked near the centre of the police laager. Zokwana and some minders were whisked into an armoured police vehicle and driven a hundred or so metres to address his “constituency” from within the Nyala. After pleading with the unreceptive workers to return to work and refusing to step out of the Nyala, Zokwana hurriedly left the scene, tail firmly tucked between his legs.

The arrival of rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa, merely minutes later, was a contrasting affair. Flanked by two colleagues, Mathunjwa initially refused to go into the Nyala (a point he repeatedly stressed during his sunset address), preferring to make a meal of it by trekking to the assembled crowd on foot.

He was persuaded against the stunt by the police and task-force operatives. While he could have been in some danger, more importantly, it would have been too obvious a signal of the changing guard at Lonmin, even for the journalists fenced off behind a human barrier of tactical response teams from various policing precincts.

Favourable conditions

Mathunjwa’s address was a lesson in crowd control, peppered with slogans and choice phrases signifying allegiance. “You are not germs, you are people just like us,” he shouted in imperfect Xhosa via an address system to a gradually warming response. “No one is going to get fired … but I must let you know that police have declared this a security zone.”

Mathunjwa said that it was a disgrace that 18 years into democracy, workers were still earning R4 000 a month. He asked workers to trust him to help broker favourable conditions for a return to work, before calling on the workers’ leaders to air grievances. Within 45 minutes, with dusk yielding to night, Mathunjwa was kept clear of journalists and zipped away.

Once again, the assembled workers had spoken. Just as at Implats, where the NUM’s embarrassment was neutered by Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi, the writing was on the wall for the NUM at Lonmin.

Earlier in the day, workers boasted of how undaunted they were by the police presence. On Tuesday afternoon, five hippos had posted close to the koppie, brandishing tear gas canisters and weapons in front of dancing workers, they said. Clad in brown slacks and a green and black tracksuit jacket, a young, clean-shaven Xhosa-speaking spokesperson who identified himself as Nzuza said: “We didn’t run, so they left.”

Nzuza said a helicopter, which had been circling around the gathered workers, also lowered its orbit to reveal armed soldiers before flying off. On Wednesday, he told journalists: “The police said they want to give us feedback from management but there’s nothing they are coming with. They want to arrest us as leaders so this [strike] can end. We want the employer to come here. [Lonmin CEO] Ian Farmer must come. [Vice-president human capital and external affairs Barnard] Mokwena is just a messenger.”

Nzuza told journalists that the men were not assembled under a specific union banner and that the strike might have been started by rock-drill operators, but “all of Lonmin” was represented. His fellow spokesperson, a taller man carrying two spears with a lime green quilt draped around his back claimed Wednesday’s negotiations with police broke down because the workers realised that “NUM members were in the hippos, those very same people who killed us” on Saturday. “Which policemen can speak fanakalo?” he asked.

Retaliation campaign

The miners, speaking via peer representation, said they had been congregating on the “mountain” since Sunday after shots were allegedly fired at them on Saturday at the nearby Wonderkop hostel allegedly “by snipers in red National Union of Mineworkers T-shirts”, killing two workers.

They have since embarked on a retaliation campaign they say, with casualties including policemen and security guards. A man found lying in crucifixion position on the edge of the koppie on Tuesday with his head split open and stab wounds to the torso, had apparently committed the cardinal sin of “fishing for information”. His lifeless body was left on display the entire day as a warning to non strikers.

Police spokesperson Dennis Adriao said: “From the police’s side, we want to reach an amicable end to this situation. We need the workers to disarm and disperse. We have spoken to the workers. We have spoken to union leaders, workers and mine management. If there are no results today, we’ll be forced to act.”

On Thursday evening, the police carried out their threat, killing several workers in addition to the 10 casualties earlier in week, which included two policemen. The unprotected strike began late last week, with about 3000 rock-drill operators congregating on Friday and allegedly intimidating employees. They have since set their salary demands at R12 500 a month, for the lowest of workers, which includes rock-drill operators and their assistants.

Bargaining units

As was the case at Implats in February, a public blame game ensued between the NUM and Amcu. Mathunjwa, squeezing in a final word during an SAFM broadcast on Wednesday morning, told general secretary of the NUM, Frans Baleni: “Don’t resort to violence when you lose members. Freedom of association. In 1994 we voted for that freedom.” The NUM, meanwhile, has maintained that the violence is part of an intimidation strategy. “Eastern Platinum is ready to work,” Baleni said earlier in the programme. “I met workers yesterday, 5 000 of them … Let all the killers be arrested, even if they are NUM members.”

Most of the striking workers return to Wonderkop hostel after their daily meetings at the koppie. At a press conference at Lonmin a day earlier, Baleni said: “As our members are alleging, all violence is emanating from this desperately small union. All arrests emanate from this particular union. Confirmation of that will soon come.”

Lonmin’s Mokwena said that Amcu had 21% membership across the bargaining units. However, this looks likely to rise as the NUM has continued to bleed members among mineworkers. Trying to find workers openly aligned to the NUM is a tall order at Wonderkop due to disaffection and intimidation.

Lonmin stated on Thursday afternoon: “The striking rock-drill operators remain armed and away from work. This is illegal under the Labour Relations Act. Consequently, and in keeping with the terms of a court order granted to Lonmin on August 11 2012, the illegal strikers have today [Thursday August 16] been issued with a final ultimatum to return to work by their next shift on Friday August 17 or face dismissal… As a result of the disruption, Lonmin has so far lost six days of mined production, representing approximately 300 000 tons of ore, or 15 000 Platinum-equivalent ounces.”

Crispen Chinguno, a PhD candidate at the Wits school of social science who spent the past year studying patterns of violence in platinum mines in the Rustenburg area, said violence had become routine in strikes in the region.

“Workers feel that it adds both positive and negative value,” he said. “At Implats, where workers were also demanding a salary adjustment outside of a bargaining agreement (R9 000), they ended up getting more than R8 000. The strike was illegal, some were dismissed, but most of them got their jobs back. From that perspective, the workers feel the use of violence is working for them. The negative aspects are some job losses, injuries and death.” Chinguno believes that as is already happening, the pattern could replicate in other mines. Deaths have recently occurred at Aquarius Platinum’s Kroondal mine.

The high level of shop-floor disgruntlement with established unions like the NUM opens the door for other unions who promise workers better quality representation. This is often described, as it is by the NUM, for example, as violent, opportunistic and unethical recruitment.

Chinguno, whose research took him to Aquarius, Implats, Lonmin and Anglo Platinum believes that a further explanation for the violence is the fact that workers have become more fragmented than before. Some are residing in informal settlements outside of the mines, some still live in hostels and some black workers occupy more skilled positions than others. Violence is used as a way of enforcing solidarity.

Chinguno said Amcu’s position was that of the NUM 30 years ago, an upstart union stepping in to fill a void of disgruntlement. While Amcu cannot be directly linked to the violence, he said interviews with high-level Amcu leaders revealed that they understood violence as the workers’ strategy of entrenching a majority.

Most vivid background story on miners’ grievances: Greg Marinovich (ok, the source is a pro-capital yuppie rag, Daily Maverick, but this seems very balanced, and the writer is extremely well regarded)

Beyond the chaos at Marikana: The search for the real issues by Greg Marinovich

Violent clashes between police and striking miners have left between seven and 18 people dead at the last count. But the miners – specifically, the rock drillers – are determined to stay on their outcrop until they are heard. But it’s more than a strike, writes GREG MARINOVICH – it’s becoming a war.

Several thousand men cover the orange outcrop of igneous rock like a single organism, spilling onto the dry thorn-veld below.

They are wrapped in blankets; their spears and fighting sticks protruding menacingly as they chant songs of war.

Ten men have died around this strange geological redoubt; two of them policemen. The violent showdown between these miners and their multinational employer, the platinum giant Lonmin, shows no sign of abating.

The hill is encircled by riot police in more than a dozen armoured Nyalas that surround the hill called Wonderkop. Further down the rutted road, more than a hundred policemen from the tactical unit and a private security firm eat their supper from plastic containers. They are dressed in bulletproof vests and are armed to the teeth.

It looks like war. It is a war. A war of survival, certainly for the miners, and perhaps for the future of Rustenburg’s platinum mines too.

A few of the miners carry indecipherable cardboard signs with their demands. A man emerges from the shuffling, chanting body of men, ostensibly asking for a cigarette. Another joins him and we speak about who they are and what they want. All of Lonmin’s mine employees are out here, one claims. People of all nations and all job descriptions are here. All they want is for the lowest paid miners to get a decent wage. The rock drillers at Lonmin earn R4,000 a month, a scarred man tells me, no matter how long they have worked at the mine. They demand R12,500.

This is a massive increase of over 300%. Not surprisingly, mine management has balked, in addition to the fact that they are locked into a wage agreement that only expires next year. But surely this is the negotiating territory of the union, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), part of the massive and powerful Cosatu umbrella, which represents them in a closed shop situation. Lonmin needs a good August to meet its annual production figures in a market where the shine has most definitely gone off platinum. But its share price has dropped precipitously on the back of the strike.

Why has it all gone so wrong?

Let’s step back here. The strike was called by the rock drillers. These are the men who work right down at the rock face, who have to work with a 25kg drill that vibrates wildly for the duration of an eight-hour shift. When there is a rock fall, it is generally the drillers who are the victims, who lose fingers or lives. It is the most dangerous job in the business. They regard themselves as men amongst men. It is a sub-culture of machismo.

Throughout the underground mining industry in South Africa, the rock drillers are BaSotho from Lesotho. It is their badge of pride that they do the dirtiest, most difficult job; yet one just two platinum mines, Lonmin and Impala Platinum (Implats), it is AmaMpondo and the related lBmvana (both sub-groups of the Xhosa) who dominate.

It is no coincidence that a bitter seventeen-week strike at Implats was also led by the Mpondo/Xhosa drillers. The striking miners I spoke to said that the Implats drillers had also been earning just R4,000 a month, but now they are at R9,500.

Imagine earning R4,000 a month to risk your life deep underground for a metal that powers rich people’s cars and bejewels fingers that have never laboured. The collection of essays “In Praise of Idleness” by Bertrand Russell articulates the logic of our labours: “First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.”

A mining insider well acquainted with the platinum sector mused on the situation, on the mindset of the drillers. “Even though I belong to a union, they underrepresent my needs. My concerns are not adequately voiced, and I have no influence. Decisions never seem to benefit me.

“I am constantly violated; and have to work under subjective violence. Despite my strength, I am powerless.”

And so a familiar cycle begins – voices begin to murmur, “If we were not doing this dirty work, would any other the other better paid people in the links of mine labour be able to do theirs? If we stop; it all stops.

“If neither the union nor the employer will listen, we will make them. We will apply objective violence until they are forced to listen to our grievances…”

Hence the strike, and the walkout and the killings and the forceful police reaction that left two of their number dead and another in hospital. The miners are prepared to suffer violence until management is forced to come and talk to them. They will wait at their altar-like outcrop until they feel that they have found their lost power.

So why does the union that represents miners at Lonmin, and before that at Implats, appear not to represent this driller sub-culture?

When the 320,000-strong NUM had its election for General Secretary in 2007, the Platinum sector put forward the NUM stalwart Archie Phalane as its nominee. He would run against Frans Baleni. At the congress, just before the vote, Phalane was told he could not contest the election as he was an employee of the union, and the rules stated that he had to be an elected official*. His supporters cried foul, and conspiracies abounded, but Baleni ran unopposed.

It seems straightforward enough, yet Phalane and his platinum sector supporters were seen to be sympathetic to the cause of ousted president Thabo Mbeki, and Baleni is supportive of current African National Congress leader and President Jacob Zuma. The union was behind Zuma, finish en klaar.

There was a resentment of NUM among their platinum sector members for some years, and so when, in May 2010, a NUM vice president, Piet Mathosa, came to persuade his members at Lonmin that management’s offer was a fair one, even though it fell well short of their demands, they did not respond well. A rock was thrown at him, injuring his eye so badly that he lost it, and spent weeks in hospital.

That could partly explain why NUM president Senzeni Zokwana, who refused to leave the safety of a police armoured vehicle to address the miners, was shouted down when he tried to persuade the Lonmin strikers to return to work. Which is also why the words of the AMCU official were greeted with cheers in the darkness of early evening in the straggly bush below Wonderkop. Or all of those miners were AMCU members already… No-one was saying – with good reason, as rumours of death threats swirled. That the majority of drillers are either foreign (from Lesotho) or rural, poorly educated men whose elected officials are usually smart young men from the district, whom they are slow to trust, has added to the volatile mix.

When we asked NUM what their version of the situation was, a new story emerged. On Thursday morning, Zokwana and Baleni painted an unflattering picture of both the rock drillers and AMCU. The general secretary confirmed that these men were indeed largely the least educated and literate of the employed workforce in the mines. They tend to come from the Eastern Cape and the mountains of Lesotho because the “township boys” don’t want to do the back-breaking work of rock drilling.

According to Zokwana, these uneducated rock drillers are always vulnerable to scam artists targeting the platinum industry in Limpopo and North West. He said that in some mines their retirement and death benefits as well as provident fund contributions were targeted. In Lonmin’s operations, these guys have taken the guise of a union that promises them R12,500 – which NUM adamantly says is unachievable for a rock driller.

Baleni also said that the AMCU organisers operating at the troubled Marikana mine were all expelled former leaders in NUM.

“NUM exercises discipline. It happens all the time that we expel members who form their own union. After a while, it disappears. The unique thing in this situation is the use of violence,” he said.

It is indeed a complicated business, with the platinum members of NUM having asserted their independence of their union; it was fertile ground for an upstart like AMCU to exploit this weakness, to make promises that they were unlikely to be able to deliver on. A dangerous ploy – the rock drillers seem to answer to nothing but themselves. The hard men of the underworld are determined to stay on the surface in their struggle to earn a living wage.

On Thursday afternoon, when police tried to move the miners off Wonderkop, there were clashes, apparently including shots fired at the police. The tactical unit of the police then retaliated with force which went beyond policing and into the realm of revenge. Journalists say between five and eighteen miners are dead, and many wounded.

More blood now stains the outcrop, as another sunset deepens the orange rock to red. DM


More labour context – Terry Bell reports prior to massacre: No angels in bloody SA mine clashes

Posted on August 15, 2012

The ongoing tension and violence at South Africa’s Lonmin platinum mine is a much more complex and messy business than a simple turf war between unions in the Rustenburg region of the country. With various agendas in play, there is now a growing call from both trade unionists and mine officials for a throroughgoing commission of inquiry into the bloody clashes that have resulted in at least ten deaths over the past week alone.

Some of the present bitterness can be traced to a decision by the Imapala Platinum (Implats) management earlier this year to “derecognise” the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). The union was given three months’ notice that it would cease to be recognised for the purposes of negotiation because its membership had fallen below the 50 per cent plus one mark of the workforce. This is the “threshold agreement” adhered to by unions and management.

NUM promptly launched an urgent court application to halt this process, claiming that the figures used by Implats were incorrect. NUM also conceded that some members had defected to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), but said they had done so because of violence and intimidation. Amcu denied the charge and claimed to have gained a majority of union members, certainly at one Implats shaft.

This led to accusations from NUM that the mining house was embarking on a process to rid the mines of union recognition and were using Amcu to do so. However, accusations by NUM that Amcu is a recent creation “of the Chamber of Mines” are clearly off the mark. Amcu was formed more than a decade ago in the Mpumalanga coal fields by disgruntled NUM members. It is affiliated to the smaller National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) federation.

Perhaps ironically, a “verification exercise” to establish union membership levels at Implats — agreed at tripartite talks between unions and management — is scheduled to start on Monday. However, Amcu has apparently now withdrawn from the exercise. Lonmin is not involved and continues to recognise NUM.

Thr clashes at Lonmin seem to have started following the awarding by management of a R700 bonus to one section of the workforce. Others demanded that their income also be topped up — and a wildcat strike erupted.

Amcu, keen to make headway against the long entrenched NUM ,appears to have given a degree of support to the protesting miners, signing many of them up in the process. Who first attacked whom, who fired th first shots and in what circumstances is still unclear. But at least ten people ae dead.

At this stage, all that seems clear is that there are no angels in this; no clear good guys and bad guys. As a result, there is a growing realisation that, for the good of the industry and the labour movement, the details of this literally bloody business must be comprehensively exposed.


More on class fractionation and NUM-as-labour-aristocracy: Mine unions’ rivalry has been brewing under the surface

BY CAROL PATON, 14 JUNE 2012, 00:00 | Business Day

IMPALA Platinum is a company being led down an uncertain path by its workforce. Gone is the certainty that came with a predictable labour relations framework and a trade union that took on the role of translating collective decisions to workers.

Now, there is the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu): a trade union with a populist flavour and a new leadership that is fast establishing a foothold in the platinum industry. Within the next few months, when all the legal verification processes have been completed, it is pretty clear that Amcu will – at the very least – share organisational rights with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) at Impala’s mine.

Yet until three months ago, Amcu did not have a single member at Impala. Today, it claims 11000 and is still counting.

It has been tempting for observers to explain Amcu’s rise by NUM’s failings. This is not accurate. NUM is a successful union that has negotiated well for its members. Amcu’s rapid growth also cannot be explained by its organisational brilliance.

Instead, what has brought about the change are dynamics that have been brewing under the surface for some time: first, the growing social distance between the NUM leadership and its members, due more than anything to the union’s success; and second, the populist mobilisation of poor and working people fed up with low incomes and wealth disparities, that is a growing tendency in politics.

Some anecdotes from recent weeks capture both.

Jeffrey Thanzi is the NUM branch chairman of Impala North. When he recently accompanied management on a corporate social investment jaunt to one of its key labour-supplying areas in the Eastern Cape, he was pictured in the Impala News along with an article about the project. Since Mthatha is his home base, talk among the workforce was that he was so privileged that management had bought him a farm and 50 head of cattle.

After a similar visit to Taung, another labour supply area for the mine, the story went around that he had computer training schools in the area, which he had acquired from company money.

Rumours were also whipped up about other NUM leaders. Colin Monapule, the branch secretary of Impala South, who is also a trustee on the board of Impala’s employee share ownership scheme, was almost lynched when workers spotted him in town wearing the white suit that his wife had bought him for their wedding. The suit must have been purchased with their shares, they claimed, which shrank rather than grew in price (as was promised five years ago when the scheme was launched) due to the fall in the platinum price. This was evidence that it was Mr Monapule who had eaten their money.

That such stories can be considered plausible by the workforce speaks volumes of the distrust that has developed between NUM members and leaders, who – although they do not own farms or generally wear flashy suits – are in much smaller ways, the elite of the workforce.

Union officials tend to be more articulate in English, sit in offices, have access to union resources such as cars on weekends, get time off work for union business, are wooed by service providers who would like to gain access to the large membership data bases they hold, and are easily identifiable by management for promotion. Unlike the rest of the workforce – which is largely illiterate – NUM branch leaders have better skills, which are developed through union work.

Says Sibongile Sigadla, one of the emerging leaders of Amcu at Impala: “The NUM leaders have got no truth. They are always on the side of the official – the people who already have many things. They have got a nice life. They can never come to us. It is difficult for them to come to us and say what is the problem?”

While the gulf between workers and their leaders grew insidiously over the years due to the privileges accorded to NUM officials, the sudden upheaval and revolt against it has its roots in last year’s wage negotiation.

In those talks, which took place between NUM, the majority union, and management and were settled in October, an across the board increase was agreed of between 9% and 10%.

Impala executive director Paul Dunne says that during the talks management put a proposal on the table that rock drill operators – who are more skilled and who were at risk of resigning for better jobs – be given a higher increment. “We recognised that we were out of step with the rest of the industry both in job grading and in pay. It would have been pre-emptive to stop them from leaving. But that suggestion never found its way into the final agreement.”

Mr Dunne says it is because the NUM rejected it. Sidwell Dokolwana, the NUM’s provincial secretary, says it was never seriously on the table.

Either way, two months later, shortly before the December break, Impala management unilaterally decided to award qualified miners – among the most skilled of underground workers – an additional 16% adjustment. This was to stop a succession of resignations of miners leaving for better pay. The NUM was outraged that the wage agreement had been unilaterally overridden. And, when workers heard of the adjustment, awarded only to the better-paid among them, they were seething.

Says an underground winch-driver who did not want to give his name: “When you work underground you are a team. If there is no winch-driver, then there is no production. We are all contributing to this company. If someone gets an increase and you don’t, then you feel bad.”

Rock-drill operators, possibly having got wind of management’s proposal during wage negotiations, led the strike, followed by the rest of the workforce. This was the strike that was largely responsible for SA’s plummeting mining output in the first quarter of the year.

The country’s platinum output dropped 46%. The loss to Impala was about R2bn. It was during this strike that the workers of Impala first made it clear that they no longer wanted the NUM to represent them.

Unfortunately for the NUM, the branch chairmen of both Impala North and South were qualified miners. Both therefore qualified for the 16% increase.

This was evidence, says Mr Sigadla, “that NUM negotiates only for itself. We saw the adjustment that the miners got. NUM are on the side of those who already have everything.”

To make their rejection of the NUM clear, “workers have given back the keys for the NUM office to management” he says, meaning workers have closed the union offices by force. An attempt by NUM members to re-open them ended in a shooting incident and ever since the offices have remained closed.

Mr Sigadla is now one of what management describe as the “emerging leadership”.

He lives in a one-roomed shack in the sprawling informal settlement near Impala number one shaft. Platinum has caused the explosion of this area over the past 15 years from dusty veld into an chaotic industrial hub, teeming with machinery, trucks, trains, taxis and people.

A rock-drill operator, and having been a shaft steward for NUM for many years, Mr Sigadla was elected one of the “Five Madoda”, or top five leaders, at Impala. He is fiercely impatient for change and deeply unhappy at what he views as the paltry wage settlements the NUM has settled for time and again. Not only that, but NUM officials, he says, do as they please on the mine, even carrying firearms into restricted areas with impunity.

They have also, he says made promises that workers would get huge amounts of money through the share ownership scheme, which have not materialised.

Instead, when the scheme finally matured in December, workers who had been expecting tens of thousands of rands got only about R2000 each.

Populist stirrings among the workforce are now for a demand of 16% across the board and for the materialisation of their vanished share money.

Mr Sigadla is impatient with union leadership who tell him to go through procedures and follow the union constitution.

It has only been former African National Congress Youth League president Julius Malema, who visited Impala workers at the height of their strike, who sympathised with workers’ impatience and urged the NUM to fire their local leadership.

“The NUM takes a long time to do everything. They have got many processes and procedures. They tell you to use the union constitution. But with Amcu, they just fight for the workers.”

It is these words exactly, that Amcu “will fight for the workers” without being burdened by the responsibility of being a partner to management or a partner to government, that Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa is frequently heard to say.

Mr Mathunjwa is also a former NUM leader, who fell out with the union and particularly its then general secretary Gwede Mantashe, back in 1998. Based in Witbank and encouraged by workers at the colliery where he had worked, he has built up a presence for Amcu at a handful of coal mines in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Witbank. The union was registered with the Department of Labour in 2001.

But large scale success has come with the platinum mines, where he has tied up a recognition agreement with Lonmin at Karee mine and with Murray & Roberts at Aquarius. Amcu is now looking to the Klerksdorp goldfields and has already received a letter warning it to stay out of hostels.

Mr Mathunjwa says his new-found success is the result of a wave of populism stirring in mining communities.

“It is about the history of how workers were treated. If workers were misrepresented for 15 or 20 years, you can imagine the anger and frustration. We are facing a situation not of our creation. If you’re reaching the end of your working life and you’re still earning R3000 then you will think, what the hell is going on?”


A perspective from capital-in-general (Business Day columnist): Lonmin shootings will change SA labour relations

BY RON DERBY, 17 AUGUST 2012,

THE EMERGENCE OF A RIVAL UNION IN THE PLATINUM SPACE MUST BE THE MOST WORRYING EVENT IN THE 30-YEAR HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL UNION OF MINEWORKERS (NUM).

The union is one of the biggest and certainly most politically powerful under the blanket of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, representing close to a fifth of its entire membership and has an important place in the African National Congress (ANC) alliance.

Given the importance of mining in the South African economy, support from the union is integral to the ruling faction in the ANC. It is this political role on which its leaders may have placed too much focus because of populist nationalisation rhetoric as well as the succession battle, to the detriment of its core mandate.

Straying from that focus on the interests of its workers has opened up space on its shop floors for a rival union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu). This happens as the situation remains dire for miners in the platinum sector as prices for the metal remain weak and costs keep rising because of poor management and other factors.

The NUM lays the blame for the unfolding violence in North West on mining houses for making unilateral salary adjustments that undermine existing wage agreements. Amcu may have been opportunistic in using those grievances from the disparities in pay to muscle in, but where has the NUM been? The union should have been alert and ready to react to the grievances.

You’ve got to think the union, which once had held sway over the entire mining industry, has taken its eyes off the ball in a big way. After the warning shots at Impala Platinum, the world’s second-biggest miner, the battle is playing out at Lonmin, the third biggest.

For the first time in the course of the Lonmin dispute, which has caused a number of fatalities, platinum prices have responded. In late afternoon trade, it had its biggest percentage gain in a month.

Anglo American Platinum, the world’s biggest miner, could well be the next explosion point in this festering battle. The NUM has warned that the turf war could spread to other mineral segments too.

The 30-year old NUM monopoly has certainly been challenged and it looks likely that it will continue to be unless its leadership gets focused on the matters at hand, instead of who occupies Luthuli House and the Union Buildings.

The deaths of the Lonmin workers yesterday have changed labour relations in the mining industry forever. Miners and the government may have to invite another party to the negotiating table, further complicating an already complicated mining regime.


Financial capital prepares to panic:

Mine violence puts South Africa’s structural flaws in the spotlight, warns S&P

BY EVAN PICKWORTH, 16 AUGUST

CONTINUING union-related violence in South Africa’s platinum sector highlights structural issues afflicting the country that “we’ve always been concerned about”, Konrad Reuss, South Africa MD of rating agency Standard & Poor’s, said on Thursday.

The agency revised South Africa’s sovereign outlook to negative earlier in the year, and Mr Reuss said the rating should be “resolved” within the next two years as he needed more guidance over the next 12-15 months.

But, he said issues such as the e-toll debacle currently before the courts, nationalisation talk ahead of the African National Congress’s elective conference in December, and bloody union clashes at Lonmin’s Marikana mine negatively affected market perceptions.

“The external perception of South Africa is definitely not healthy,” he said. “There is no near-term resolution to the outlook statement.”

The external environment, weaker fiscal parameters, and debt “going in the wrong direction” remained concerns, Mr Reuss said.

He added: “In the South African context, it does not hinge on something specific.”


Alibi?

Lonmin CEO is sick

August 17 2012 at 06:00am

By Sapa

As the country reeled in shock at the deaths of Lonmin mine workers in Marikana on Thursday, the company released a statement saying its CEO was ill.

“It is with regret that the company must announce that Ian Farmer, the chief executive officer, has been diagnosed with a serious illness and is presently in hospital.

“The board, on behalf of the entire company, wishes him a full and speedy recovery. Our thoughts are with Ian and his family at this difficult time,” Lonmin said in a statement.

It said the day-to-day running of the business would taken by over executive committee member Roger Phillimor.

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