/ 3 September 2012

Police subdue protesters at Springs mine

Four people were injured at an apparently violent protest at a gold mine on Monday
Four people were injured at an apparently violent protest at a gold mine on Monday

Police and other sources have confirmed that rubber bullets and tear gas were turned on protesters at a gold mine in Springs on Monday morning, injuring four people, in an incident possibly inspired at least in part by a speech by Julius Malema.

The four injured have apparently already been released from hospital, although that could not immediately be independently verified.

"Protesters blocked the entrance to the mine and started attacking a taxi full of our employees," said Neal Froneman, CEO of Gold One, which owns the Modder East mine. "Our mine security responded with rubber bullets and four people were injured. Initially we thought one injury was serious, but it was not."

Froneman said police subsequently dispersed the crowd. On Monday afternoon police could confirm only that an incident had taken place, but could not yet corroborate the details.

Some miners, and former miners, at Modder East attended an address by Julius Malema at the nearby, closed Aurora mine on Thursday. Gold One has bid for the assets of Aurora.

But though Malema's visit to the area seems to have been inspired by the violence at Lonmin's Marikana mine, trouble at Modder East pre-dates the strike at Lonmin considerably, with the police breaking up at least one gathering in June. Five people were arrested for public violence during that incident.

In a statement released on Monday, ahead of the incident, Gold One said workers first went on strike in early June, due to a demand for organisational rights for the  Professional Allied Workers and Transport Union (PTAWU), but that the demands later grew to include a wage increase.

Just over a thousand workers were fired as a result of the illegal strike, it said, of which 300 out of 500 who re-applied for their jobs have been rehired. The remaining 500-odd "have on several occasions been informed that the offer to attend an interview remains open", the mine said.

The fired workers made up more than half the workforce at the mine. They have largely been replaced with contract workers.

According to Gold One, at least two of its employees have been killed amid intimidation from fired miners, and a third was hospitalised after an attack. "Gold One has offered a large monetary reward for the arrest of the perpetrators," it told investors.

Production was slightly disrupted on Monday, the company said, but normal operations largely continued and workers reported for duty.

"I think in general our employees are sick and tired of being used as political pawns," Froneman said.

Vavi's new best friend
Zwelinzima Vavi found an unlikely ally in Julius Malema, when the latter called on striking workers at Gold Fields to back the federation's leader.

Earlier on Monday, Malema waded into a dispute between National Union of Mineworkers [NUM] leadership and workers at Gold Fields in Westonaria, on the West Rand.

Mine management had apparently deducted R69 from workers' salaries for a funeral policy without their consent.

Malema said emphatically that the money would be returned.

Malema criticised the NUM's leadership and accused it of being sympathetic to the ANC and mine management.

"Leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers [NUM] should know that you can't act for workers without consulting them, and don't take workers for granted," he told strikers .

"If they fail you, you must lead yourself."

"The ANC has forgotten about the plight of workers. NUM and ANC are protecting their own profits. NUM has been hijacked by people who are fighting politic battles in the ANC. NUM leaders go 'Hai Hai, you don't strike now, your are weakening Zuma's chances of being elected'."

'BEE failed'
"The BEE in these mines has failed. Leaders in the ANC are in this mine. They don't care about the workers," he said. Malema said Vavi was being victimised because he is fighting for the rights of workers.

"They have turned against Vavi because he has remained true to workers. Cosatu conference is coming up. You must go fight for Vavi because he is being attacked for fighting for workers' rights."

"Our leaders are not fighting for nationalisation. Not because it threatens investment, but because it threatens their own profits. Vavi has been critical of Malema's opportunism in the wake of the Marikana massacre.

"Suddenly politicians, far removed from the reality workers face … are suddenly positioning themselves opportunistically as the champions of the RDOs [rock drill operators]," Vavi was reported to have said.

Malema's speech evoked loud cheers from the miners, who have been on strike since last Wednesday. They wanted the NUM's local leadership to resign.

"Management was wrong to allow people to deduct money from you without your signatures." Malema said the deductions for the funeral policy would be terminated. "But it must not end there. There must be criminal investigations [into] who did the fraud."

Malema said the miners were not threatening foreign investment with their strike, as some newspapers had reported. "We are threatening profits gained by greedy shareholders."

Malema cited South African mining magnate Patrice Motsepe as an example.

"He became one of the millionaires … billionaires in less than 20 years. Why? Because the money he was supposed to share with the workers he did not share it."

Malema said white management was not listening to workers' grievances because leaders of the ANC were involved in the mines.

He told his audience to continue fighting for better wages.

The ANC in the OR Tambo region, in the Eastern Cape, had declared that the minimum monthly wage for mine workers across the country should be R12 500, he said. – additional reporting by Nickolaus Bauer