Striking Swazi miners sound Marikana alarm

Police at the Maloma colliery. (Wander Mkhonza)

Police at the Maloma colliery. (Wander Mkhonza)

Swazi police had forcefully removed striking workers from a koppie near the Maloma colliery by Thursday afternoon.

The management of Swaziland’s only remaining mine has retaliated against striking workers and denied them access to food and water, union representatives said, adding that a heavy police contingent was brought in to intimidate the strikers.

The mine is 75% owned by Chancellor House Holdings, which was started as the investment arm of the ANC. The other 25% is owned by Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a billion-rand trust in effect controlled by Swaziland’s king.

More than 250 mineworkers from the colliery went on strike on Monday, demanding a housing allowance of between R450 and R800.

“The company has taken a position that the striking workers do not access water, do not access medical help and that they do not access toilet and sanitation materials,” Wander Mkhonza, the secretary general of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland, said in a media statement.

Fear of a repeat
He said that, despite workers protesting peacefully, there appeared to be more police than workers and that they were wielding riot shields, protective headgear, guns and teargas canisters. Workers told the Times of Swaziland they feared a repeat of South Africa’s 2012 Marikana massacre.

The alleged decision by mine management to withhold food and water is particularly harsh as the mine is in the rural Lubombo region in southern Swaziland. The only nearby food outlet is a small convenience store, which offers little more than expensive bread.

Food is usually supplied by a contractor that also provides cleaning services to the mine. Mkhonza said the company threatened to end the service provider’s contract if it continued to sell food to the workers.

Chancellor House Holdings refused to answer questions about the strike. Its managing director, Mamatho Netsianda, said the company cannot speak for the colliery’s management. Calls to Maloma’s human resources manager, Gabriel Manana, and the company were not answered.

King Mswati has recently cracked down on trade unions for their role in the 2012 pro-democracy protests.

ANC distancing itself from Chancellor House

In 2002, then ANC treasurer general Mendi Msimang reportedly came up with the idea of setting up Chancellor House Holdings as an investment arm to channel funds to the ruling party.

It was named after the building where Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela ran a legal office in the 1950s. It was formed in 2003; its existence was revealed by the M&G in 2006. It was so secretive that then secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe said he first learnt of the company when he read about it in the M&G.

The company was soon making news for the wrong reasons as it landed tenders from the state and state-owned enterprises, where the government was seen as both player and referee. In 2007 a consortium including a company partially owned by Chancellor House landed Eskom’s biggest single contract in its history thus far, for six steam generators worth R20-billion. Previous ANC treasurer general Matthew Phosa sparked a debate about the company’s relationship with the ANC.

Lately the ruling party has distanced itself from the company.

The ANC’s current treasurer general, Zweli Mkhize, told the M&G this week that Chancellor House “was started by the leadership of the ANC”, but he said the party did not issue directions to the company. “It gives donations to the ANC, but it is an independent company.”

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian. She grew up in Laudium, Pretoria, learned her trade at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, spent a spell in Cape Town as an online journalist, and now loves living in Jozi. Her interests are broad but include a focus on politics and multi-platform storytelling. Read more from Verashni Pillay


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