Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, during a speaking tour in Virginia on April 24-25, 2010. (Photo: Ana Edwards), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
South African Police Crackdown on Wildcat Strike Activity
Cosatu holds congress and maintains existing leadership
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
South African police have been arresting striking workers in an effort to stem protests and violence in the areas surrounding platinum and gold mines. 45 people have been killed since August when rock drill operators walked off the job at the Lonmin Platinum facilities at Marikana.
Labor unrest is also spreading out from the platinum and gold sectors to chrome. On September 14 workers at Samancor walked off the job demanding the same salary as the workers at Lonmin are seeking (R12,500 or $US1,500 per month).
Despite threats by management and appeals from the African National Congress-led government of President Jacob Zuma, workers at Lonmin had not returned to their jobs on September 17. On September 15, police raided miners’ hostels in Marikana saying that they seized spears, machetes and other traditional weapons from strikers.
On September 17, police in other law-enforcement operations, arrested 42 people at an Anglo-American Platinum (Amplats) mine for engaging in what was described as an illegal strike. South Africa contains 80 percent of the known platinum reserves in the world.
The Amplats workers have shut down four mines over the last several days. The company bosses said they were determined to reopen the facilities on September 18.
Some of the workers objected to the pledge by Amplats to force them back to work. Mametlwe Sebei, a community leader, said that Amplats bosses were “whistling in the dark” if they thought that the mines would reopen on September 18. (Reuters, September 17)
“They can deploy the army, they can shoot people, shooting old men in their shacks, tear gassing young kids…but let us be clear there will be repercussions.”
Expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema was prevented from entering a rally at Marikana where workers had gathered at a soccer field to hear him speak. Malema has been highly critical of President Zuma and the party leadership for not taking measures to nationalize the mining industry and redistributing farm land to African workers and farmers.
Malema, who came to the defense of jailed miners that had been charged with murder stemming from the Marikana massacre, is reported to be under investigation by the Hawks, a division of the South African police. He is allegedly being probed over allegations that he deliberately incited workers, a charge supposedly brought by Solidarity, a largely white mineworkers’ union.
Speaking before striking workers at the Gold Fields’ KDC west mine located near Carletonville, Malema called for a general work stoppage in the mining industry. Malema has been traveling to various mining areas where industrial unrest is taking place.
Marikana, where the Lonmin Platinum operations are located, is reputed to be the world’s third largest producer of this strategic mineral utilized for the production of catalytic converters in automobiles. The ongoing unrest in the mining sector, the largest and most profitable in South Africa, has sparked a nationwide debate on the future of the ANC-led government which has been in power since 1994.
Two other mining operations in the Rustenburg platinum belt around Marikana were re-opened on September 17. These facilities, Aquarius Platinum’s Kroondal and Xstrata’s chrome where some workers returned to the job, still remained tense due to the refusal of others to return to the mines.
President Zuma defended his administration’s efforts to quell unrest in the mining areas. He told journalists that the “Government respects the constitutional rights of Marikana residents but has to promote peace and order.” (Botswana Gazette, September 17)
The South African leader went on to say the “Government cannot allow a situation where people march in the streets carrying dangerous weapons. We cannot allow them to intimidate others or incite violence, and we also have to protect the rights of those who do not want to be part of their protests or the strikes.”
Zuma Addresses COSATU Congress
The largest labor federation inside the country, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) held its national congress beginning on September 17 at the Gallagher Estate in Midrand. The organization re-elected the existing leadership including Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi and President Sidumo Dlamini .
The COSATU congress is being closely watched inside the country because the federation’s two million members are politically indispensable to the maintenance of the ANC as the ruling party of South Africa. COSATU support for Zuma and other party leaders will also be important at the upcoming ANC congress in Mangaung at the end of the year.
Zuma addressed the COSATU delegates and defended the track record of the ANC government under his leadership. He also sought to build support for the government’s efforts to bring stability to the mining industry.
The president acknowledged that R4.5 billion ($US548 million) had been lost in the recent wildcat strikes at several mines in the platinum and gold sectors. He also spoke to the indirect impact of the strikes on other sectors of the national economy.
“We cannot afford to go into recession and revert to the 2008 and 2009 period where the country lost close to one million jobs, which we are still battling to recover. We have to find a way to restore workplace stability and labor peace. Violence cannot become the culture of labor relations.” (Financial Times, September 17)
There are hundreds of thousands of workers employed in the mining industry. During 2011, platinum sales were valued at R82 billion ($US10 billion). Gold sales last year were estimated to be R66 billion ($US 8 billion).
A rival but smaller union, the Association of Miners and Construction Workers (AMCU) has sought to compete with COSATU’s largest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), for the loyalty of the workers. Several AMCU leaders were expelled from NUM more than a decade ago and this animosity continues within the present crisis.
COSATU President Sidumo Dlamini recognized the challenges facing the federation during this period. He pointed out that “We cannot hide the fact that the plight of workers is being used by some to weaken strategic components of the alliance seen as a threat towards Mangaung.”
The ANC along with COSATU and the South African Communist Party (SACP) have maintained a close working alliance since the days of the former white minority apartheid-regime. Debates over the handling of the current economic crisis have brought about strains within the relationship between the organizations.