With talks at Marikana at an impasse, and concerns about violence mounting, even unions are puzzled about the cause of a new strike at Gold Fields.
Real negotiations that could lead to a return to normality at Marikana are unlikely to take place on Tuesday, various groups involved say, and barring a significant change there is no reason to believe a deal could be struck this week. Instead, concerns about violence are once again mounting.
Police sources say a close eye will be held on striking workers in the area on Tuesday, but some members aren't convinced that the situation can be managed, and events on Monday seemed to back some fears. On Monday, as on Friday, police initially attempted to steer and block marchers armed with weapons, including pangas, but eventually did little more than escort the group.
"The threats and intimidation went up today [Monday]," said National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka on Monday night. "They want to stop people working, and there is nothing the police can do. If they act, they are in trouble, if they don't act, they are still in trouble."
Trade union Solidarity said it would continue to urge members to report for work at Lonmin shafts, if only to be sent home by their managers. "Some of our members do crucial maintenance," said Gideon du Plessis, a deputy general secretary involved in talks. "But we are telling them to use common sense. If it is dangerous to go, they have the right to withdraw their services."
Du Plessis said Marikana isn't a classic labour dispute, and warned that violence is nearly inevitable "if the strikers realise that they have reached the end of the road".
The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA) on Monday said it could not facilitate negotiations, cancelled on the day, unless workers return to their jobs.
On Monday Lonmin reported an average worker attendance of 6.34%, which equates to about half the number of strikers who marched on shafts to demand that work not continue. Along the way, strikers again targeted bus drivers who ferry miners to the shafts, a tactic that has proven successful in reducing attendance in recent weeks.
Workers who did report for duty did so knowing they were at risk; strikers on Friday threatened to burn down shaft heads and kill managers and shift bosses should they be found at work.
Gold Fields strike two
Meanwhile, Gold Fields on Monday said it had obtained an interdict declaring a strike at its KDC West mine to be unprotected. Previously known as Driefontein, the mine saw 15 000 workers downed tools on Sunday night.
"It looks like it will be continuing in the short term," said Gold Fields spokesperson Sven Lunsche, but added that the company did not intend to use the interdict unless violence or intimidation occurred. Production at the KDC East operation – where 12 000 workers went on strike at the end last week – remained normal, he said.
The strike at the West mine appears to be on a number of demands: salaries of R12 500 per month (a touchstone number for miners at Marikana, and one that former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema has encouraged miners to demand); taxes, and taxes paid on bonuses; the equalisation of pay across shafts and operations; and the dissolution of the local NUM branch committee. Except for the last, the demands don't make a great deal of sense, NUM's Seshoka said.
"On the issue of equalisation there is an agreement in place, we just have to monitor implementation. Taxes and bonuses, that is something you have to discuss with Sars [the South African Revenue Service]. On wages, there is a collective agreement in place."
Gold Fields has acknowledged that workers at different shafts earn different amounts for the same job, a legacy issue it too says is being addressed.
Unhappiness with the local union branch, Seshoka said, seems to stem from "their inability to help with tax, but that isn't their mandate".
Last week's strike at Gold Field's KDC East also prominently featured unhappiness with local union leaders.
And that may a case of the union being a victim of its own success, said NUM's head of the production sector, Eddie Majadibodu, speaking at a discussion forum at the Gordon Institute of Business Science on Monday evening. Negotiating better benefits, including higher salaries, for shop stewards made sense originally, he said, because they were sacrificing the chance of further study or advancement in favour of organising workers.
Now, however, such leadership roles are fought over, while young non-union members "tend to disrespect wage agreements that have been settled with employers, and as a result they are militant and mobilising other workers, but violently."
Others at the Gibs event, which intended to explore the implications of Marikana, blamed the decline of institutions designed to resolve and prevent conflict between workers and employers ,such as the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), for the violence at Marikana and the stalemate there.
"Why has it taken us seven years to resolve something as simple as labour broking?" asked International Labour Organisation (ILO) director Vic van Vuuren. "The leaders are not sitting in Nedlac anymore… They are missing in action."
"Nedlac is now more of a headache," agreed political economist Iraj Abedian, of Pan-African Capital Holdings.