Marikana: Amcu and the leadership dilemma

The reporters who noticed will tell you that the "struggle" song flowing repeatedly from the Lonmin workers' lips before and after the Marikana massacre was "Le NUM siyayizonda, sizoyibulala kanjani?" (We hate NUM, how will we eliminate it?)

These are fighting words and when sung in a sea of hacked skulls and bullet-riddled torsos, they take on a literal and ominous meaning. They suggest that the blood of current National Union of Mineworkers members and office bearers will be used to wash away any traces of the workers' affiliation to their former union and, eventually, its existence.

Law enforcers, as they did with the mass killings on August 16 at Marikana, will continue to play a reactive role.

The situation has been building up from a time long before the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) began eroding the NUM's turf.

The 2009 Implats incident in which then-NUM deputy president Piet Matosa lost an eye after failing to pursuade workers to accept an Implats wage offer 4% below the workers' demands, is often cited to illustrate how the union has lost control of its own members, making its own coffin before any outside threat arrived to dig the grave.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa has sometimes used the incident to deflect claims that his union incite violence, and so he should, especially with the NUM's propaganda tactics shifting into auto­pilot in the week leading up to the Marikana shootings.

Emerging militancy
The day after the shootings, a contingent of Implats workers led by mineworker Nceba Gcelu descended on Lonmin to show solidarity with the striking workers. He is an archetype of the emerging militancy on shop floors across the platinum belt. He said the workers were on a quest to find out which mine paid the highest wages before rolling out action to make sure that the wages, according to grade, are standardised at all the mines.

This week's reported strike at the Royal Bafokeng Platinum Mine, where workers are now demanding R12500 a month and voicing their displeasure with the NUM, underlines the gravity of Gcelu's words.

He describes himself as the chairperson of an interim committee – one of several set up by workers in the period leading up to the violent Implats strike – while in the same breath declaring that he is now an Amcu member.

His seeming ambivalence stems from the fact that, when the interim committees are not still leading unprotected strikes and revolts against the NUM, there is usually an interlude in which their members can be recast as Amcu members.


But perhaps Gcelu explains it best: "We didn't get rid of the NUM; the NUM got rid of us. We told Amcu that they have nothing to do with our demands of R9000," he said in February, "so they can only start negotiating for us in 2013 because of an existing two-year agreement."

So, although Amcu uses the impasse to recruit members, the NUM, in turn, uses it as an opportunity to distance itself from its members, either for short-term propaganda reasons or to announce that, at that point, the relationship has been irretrievably severed.

First foothold
The NUM's internal machinations have also seen it play into the hands of the opposition. A classic example is the firing of 9 000 staff at Lonmin's Karee mine last year following an unprotected strike, apparently after a dispute between the union's regional office and the leadership of the local Karee branch. When the dust settled, 5 000 of the 7 000 re-employed workers had joined Amcu, giving it its first foothold at Lonmin.

NUM president Senzeni Zokwana's failure to convince his workers to disarm and disperse in the critical moments before Thursday's violence sent NUM general secretary Frans Baleni's assertion that the union had "an ability to persuade its members" flying out the window.

Baleni's tone at the Lonmin press conference was so resigned that calling this union rivalry is an overstatement.

"The Rustenburg pattern is the same," he told journalists. "The workers raise grumblings, they go on an illegal strike and then a union emerges and claims to represent the workers after the fact."

Even he seemed to acknowledge the autonomy that precipitates regime change. The workers are clearly aware of their role as kingmakers. The shouts of amandla awethu (power to the people) may just be beginning to regain their meaning.

The moral question for Amcu is: Will the union change the culture of violence from which it has benefited, or will its hands also become stained with blood when it is handed authority? Will it manage to control the workforce that the NUM has clearly failed and usher in a culture of disciplined striking?

If not, it will follow down the bloody path already favoured by its inherited members, which means that Mathunjwa may just become the new Zokwana if he rests on his laurels.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.
Advertising

Protective equipment for schools in KwaZulu-Natal goes ‘missing’

Without protective equipment, schools in uMlazi, Pinetown and Zululand won’t meet the already delayed deadline for reopening

The statue of Louis XVI should remain forever handless

A statue of the French king in Louisville, Kentucky was damaged during the protests against police killings. It should not be repaired

On the road with East African truck drivers

In East Africa, truck drivers are being attacked, robbed and used as diplomatic footballs
Advertising

Press Releases

Empowering his people to unleash their potential

'Being registered as an AGA(SA) means you are capable of engineering an idea and turning it into money,' says Raymond Mayekisa

What is an AGA(SA) and AT(SA) and why do they matter?

If your company has these qualified professionals it will help improve efficiencies and accelerate progress by assisting your organisation to perform better

Mining company uses rich seam of technology to gear up for Covid-19

Itec Direct technology provides instant temperature screening of staff returniing to the workplace with no human contact

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday