Week-long strike – at the bottom of a mine shaft

More than 800 mineworkers are sitting 1,5km underground at the bottom of an Eastern Transvaal mine shaft with enough food for a week – and are refusing to leave. The workers at Rand Mines' Winterveld Chrome Mines at Steelpoort started their sit-in strike on Tuesday.

Having not been included in the recent strike and settlement with the Chamber of Mines, they are demanding wage and benefit increases. They decided on the sit-in to "prevent management employing scab labour". Since the only access to the bottom of the shaft they have now occupied is in a lift that allows only one person to enter at a time, it is virtually impossible for mine management to remove them. And their move has diminished any chances of management employing replacement labour.

They decided on a sit-in after hundreds of work seekers from the impoverished Lebowa homeland queued outside the mine gates. They decided 800 miners would occupy the shaft and the other 400 would "conduct the strike from the "surface". This was before the Northern Transvaal Peoples' Congress held a meeting with local chiefs to ask them to stop their "subjects" from seeking employment at the mine.

The chiefs are believed to have issued a directive to villagers not to take the striking mineworkers' jobs. And the number of work seekers at the gate has dwindled to nil, according to one of the workers on strike. The workers initially downed tools legally about two weeks ago in sympathy with the national strike by 340 000 mineworkers at Chamber of Mines-affiliated mines.

The workers are demanding a:

  • 26 percent wage increase
  • 100 percent leave allowance
  • Increased leave days
  • lmproved working conditions and
  • June 16 as a paid holiday.

Yesterday the 400 workers, who are conducting the strike "from the "surface", met to consider an ultimatum for workers to end the strike by next Monday. A worker told the Weekly Mail that the strikers, who are holed in 1,5km underground, have stocked up sufficient food to last them for a week.

Attempts to get comment from the mining company yesterday were unsuccessful. A Rand Mines representative said "the people who are authorised to comment on the situation at the mine are away".

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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Sefako Nyaka
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