Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, speaks on the Pan-African struggle at Clark Park in southwest Detroit on October 12, 2007. (Photo: Cheryl LaBash)., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
South African Inquiry Into Marikana Massacre Begins as Labor Unrest Continues
Truckers strike enters second week while bosses threaten to close mines
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
A government inquiry into the unrest surrounding the wildcat strike at Lonmin Platinum PLC has begun. The strike led by rock drill operators resulted in the deaths of at least 46 people, 34 of whom at the hands of the police.
Ian Farlam, a retired judge, is directing the investigation amid ongoing strike actions by workers in the platinum, gold and transport industries inside the country. The inquiry proceedings began with the reading of the names of the 34 killed by police on August 16.
“Our country weeps because of the tragic loss, and this commission will work expeditiously to ensure the truth is revealed,” Farlam said. The hearing is taking place in Rustenberg, 75 miles northwest of Johannesburg, the largest city near Marikana where the unrest culminating in the shootings took place. (Reuters, October 1)
The inquiry is scheduled to last for four months. Its findings could be damaging to the government of President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress (ANC). The ANC will convene its congress in December where elections will be held and policies will be agreed upon for the upcoming 2014 national elections.
In addition to investigating the circumstances surrounding the Marikana unrest, the commission has a broader mandate to examine relations between workers and management in the mining sector, the social conditions under which miners live and the real issues behind what could have sparked the overall unrest at Lonmin.
Truckers’ Strike Continues for Second Week
Another industry impacted by the upsurge in labor struggles is transport where thousands of drivers have gone on strike. The strike is being led by the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU), an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the two-million member federation which is the nation’s largest.
Truck drivers marched through South Africa’s largest city of Johannesburg on October 1 urging the Road Freight Employers’ Association (RFEA), the employer body, to agree to a 12 percent pay increase. RFEA has only offered the workers a six percent hike in salary.
A statement issued by RFEA says “We are aware that the strike has an effect, not only on our members and the industry, but also on the South African public and economy as a whole.”
During the march one SATAWU leader said that “We must keep up the fight for economic freedom. We must not let the fight die.” (Business Day Live, October 1)
This same worker said “People must be with us. They must not work and side with the employer.”
The strike has resulted in violence in various regions of the country including Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, where many trucks have been torched. There are also reports of accidents caused due to the throwing of rocks at vehicles.
SATAWU has rejected any responsibility for the violence saying that their members are not involved. At the same time fuel, medical supplies and food cannot be easily transported with the ongoing strike in force.
Many people are beginning to stock up on goods and fuel. The South African Petroleum Industry Association has issued a warning which urges consumers not to engage in panic buying.
Bosses Threaten to Close Mines in Response to Strikes
With industrial actions spreading from the mining sector to transport, the capitalists in South Africa are concerned about even further disruption to the economy. The country is already facing high unemployment and continued downsizing in the most organized industries.
Anglo Gold Ashanti Ltd. announced on October 1 that it is considering closing some mines and firing workers if the wildcat strikes go on much longer. At present all of Anglo Gold’s mines are shut down after 24,000 workers walked off the job a week ago demanding better pay. (dowjones.com, October 1)
Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) in Rustenburg has also been closed due to strike activity. The bosses had given the workers until the evening shift on October 1 to return to the job or face dismissal.
The Chamber of Mines indicated that it is willing to engage in discussions with COSATU in an effort to get the mining industry back to full production. “We are especially interested to hear if they (COSATU) are able to convince workers to return to work…and what their proposals are for entering wage negotiations in light of the unprotected strike action, said Elize Strydom, senior executive for employment relations. (Business Day Live, October 1)
On September 29, COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told mineworkers at Gold Fields KDC West facility in Carletonville on the West Rand that the federation was prepared to “take up the fight” involving the demand for wage hikes in the industry. Although the general secretary did not support the wildcat work stoppages he committed the nation’s largest trade union federation to work for a R12,500 (US$1,500) monthly pay rate.
Overall approximately 75,000 workers are idle as a result of strike activity in the mining areas. Although South Africa remains by far the largest source of platinum production in the world, the gold industry has declined tremendously over the last two decades where mine closures and downsizing has escalated since the ANC came to power in 1994.