Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, speaking in Clark Park on October 12, 2007 at a rally in solidarity with the immigrant rights movement in the United States. (Photo: Alan Pollock), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Marikana Workers Return to the Mines With 22 Percent Pay Hike
Wildcat strikes continue in platinum and gold industry
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Workers at the Lonmin Platinum PLC mines in Marikana returned to the job on September 20 after a bitter six week strike that left 45 people dead and many more injured. The wildcat strike led by the rock drill operators was opposed by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) the largest affiliate of the major labor federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
In efforts to get the mines back to production, the bosses agreed to a 22 percent pay increase for the striking workers. The work stoppage and the massacre by police on August 16 had shaken up the entire political and economic structures in South Africa, where the African National Congress (ANC) has been in power since 1994.
The labor unrest at Marikana sparked wildcat strikes at other platinum mines as well as gold and chrome facilities. Some Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) workers have still not returned to the job while they have elected their own representatives to negotiate with management bypassing the leadership of NUM.
Alathus Modrsane, a member of the negotiating team at Amplats said “We are no longer with the NUM because we saw that they are failing us.” (Associated Press, September 21) With settlements negotiated with Lonmin Platinum serving as a benchmark, workers at other mines are demanding the same rate of pay increases.
In the gold sector, miners at AngloGold Ashanti Kopanang, which employs approximately 5,000 people, workers have still not returned to the job. This mine produces about four percent of the total production of the company.
At the Gold Fields mines near Carletonville, workers have been off the job for two weeks. Miners there say they want the same pay increase as the workers won at Lonmin.
Management representative Sven Lunsche at Gold Fields told the Associated Press that the demands of the workers were well beyond what the company could afford. He urged the striking miners to resolve their issues through the NUM structures. (September 21)
Lunsche said of the wildcat strikes that “It’s been a worrying trend in the industry, particularly since all of these issues have gone beyond the collective bargaining forum. They are happening outside what has been an established and orderly forum.”
Mineworkers have complained that NUM is not representing their interests. NUM representative Lesiba Seshoka said that union representatives cannot just step aside. “If they want to recall or remove them they must follow proper procedure by having a vote of no confidence or telling us the allegations and we will launch an investigation.” (Associated Press, September 21)
Conditions in the Mines at Root of Crisis
Although the salaries of miners have improved over the last decade, many workers have lost their jobs due to the massive restructuring of the industry. Conditions in the mining towns have not kept up with the demands of the workers and their families.
Workers describe their living conditions as pure hell. They point out that there is a need for modern housing, electricity, water and sanitation.
Economist Dawi Roodt told the French Press Agency (AFP) that “COSATU has moved away from its roots to become a political organization, while it’s supposed to be a labor movement. Because of the separation between the grassroots and leadership, the mineworker feels his interests are not being protected anymore.” (Radio Netherlands, September 24)
In the gold sector of the mining industry, there has been a huge downsizing of workers and overall production. Historically South Africa was the leading producer of gold in the world.
However today, countries such as Ghana and Mexico are outstripping South Africa in gold production. As a result of the closing of mines in South Africa since the ANC took governmental control, COSATU has less power to demand concessions from the bosses.
According to Business Day, “Less than six years ago, South Africa’s gold industry was still the world’s number one producer of the yellow metal. But maturing ore bodies paired with increasing costs and a complex labor environment have contributed to the country’s slide to fifth position.” (bdlive.co.za, September 23)
Precious metal researcher William Tankard pointed out recently that South Africa is only producing around 7 percent of the world’s gold supply in comparison to three decades ago when the percentage was approximately 65 percent. Data released this year indicate that production has decreased by 5 percent over the period of 2011-2012.
Brent Cook of the U.S.-based Exploration Insight said of the South African gold industry that it is ageing and no longer attractive to investors. “Costs are going up and the management company culture around these operations is old and tired.” (bdlive.co.za)
Cook went on to say that “I feel there are better places to spend my time researching investment opportunities. These are, for the most part, tired old mines of a bygone era. I expect that gold mining in South Africa will decrease in coming years because it is becoming increasingly difficult to mine those ore bodies at deeper depths, higher costs and among social unrest.”
These attitudes by capitalist interests cannot be separated from the overall world economic crisis. Workers around the globe are being forced into accepting lower wages and horrible working conditions.
With the strength of the trade union movement in South Africa and its historic militant character, the mine owners and the bankers are seeking avenues in other geo-political regions where they can earn higher profits without interference from organized labor allied with political parties. Such attitudes among the bosses will necessitate a different approach by the ANC government where mines and other national assets must viewed as the property interests of the workers and the people.
Even though the capitalist investors are intransigent in their dealings with the workers, the reality is that South Africa remains the leading country in the world in regard to mineral wealth. The state encompasses the largest deposits of platinum, magnesium and chromium reserves on the planet.
Former ANC Youth League President Indicted for Corruption and Tax Evasion
Internal problems within the ANC and the trade union movement have hampered the national democratic revolution from making a transition to a non-capitalist path of development. The purging of the top leadership of the ANC Youth League earlier this year is a reflection of the tensions inside the tripartite alliance of the ANC, COSATU and the South African Communist Party (SACP).
Julius Malema, the outspoken former ANC Youth League president, was accused of fostering division in the party. Malema and the ANCYL continued to advocate for the nationalization of the mining industry and the redistribution of land to the majority African population.
ANC governments since 1994 have not expropriated capital or agribusiness interests. These factors coupled with large-scale unemployment and poverty due to the legacy of apartheid and the economic crisis of the last five years have worsened conditions for many within the majority, while sections of the middle class and business sectors have grown wealthy.
Malema, who championed the cause of the workers at Marikana and other areas undergoing mining unrest, has been indicted on corruption charges. He has also been assessed approximately $2million in unpaid taxes by the South African Revenue Services.
Malema and his attorney believe that these charges are politically motivated. Nicqui Galaktiou, Malema’s legal counsel, said “We have received confirmation from the authorities that there is an arrest warrant issued for Mr. Malema.”
The ANC will hold its congress in December in order to debate the party’s policy guidelines for the next five years and to select the leadership that will contest the national elections in 2014. South African President Jacob Zuma will be seeking another term despite criticism from people like Malema who say that he has turned his back on the workers, farmers and youth of the country.
Zuma and the current ANC leadership are defending their record in office saying that they have improved services in the cities and rural areas but there is still much work to be done. People across South Africa and the world will be following the proceeding at the upcoming congress to determine whether things will fundamentally change inside Africa’s most industrialized state.