Strike until NUM leaders step down, Malema tells SA's miners

Julius Malema arrives at Gold Fields to speak to striking miners. (Daniel Edyegu)

Julius Malema arrives at Gold Fields to speak to striking miners. (Daniel Edyegu)

"There must be a national strike at all the mines until [the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers ] Frans Baleni  and the NUM leadership step down with immediate effect," Malema told a packed stadium at the Gold Fields KDC West gold mine near Carletonville.

"If they don't hear our demands, we will strike for five days a month until they listen."

The expelled ANC Youth League leader told about 15 000 of striking workers the NUM's leaders did not listen to workers' needs.

"How can Frans Baleni know your problems if he doesn't address you, and hears about your issues on TV?" he asked. "There must be a national strike around the country, demanding Frans Baleni and all NUM leadership immediately be replaced ... The problem is not with NUM, it's with your leaders that take money from the mlungu [whites]."

Malema lambasted union leaders, saying workers were being exploited.

"If you want workers to sweat blood, you must talk to them, not this false leadership," he said.

"The Marikana struggle must go to all the mines.
R12 500 is a reality ... We are going to the mines and spreading this revolution. Next week we are in Lephalale. The struggle continues, comrades."

He also used the opportunity to take a swipe at President Jacob Zuma.

"It's no secret President Zuma is being paid to protect the mines. His family trusts are being paid. You can't touch the mines ... Zuma doesn't care about the workers. He doesn't care about you. Our leaders are in bed with the capitalists," Malema said.

Guarded welcome
Security hesitated before allowing Malema in after his arrival to the cheers of the thousands of strikers who gathered to hear him speak, but a crowd went to the gate to usher him through.

His black 4x4 was surrounded by miners, who chanted and sang: "Those who have not seen him [Malema] will see him today", and many of them carried signs reading "R12 500 or nothing" and "Down with NUM".

Malema ended his speech saying there was a witch-hunt against him.

"We are being intimidated. The police are chasing us. They are trying to silence us like they did in apartheid ... They can arrest us tomorrow; we are not scared. If they kill us they will not kill our ideas. Our ideas will live on through you."

Strike
Production at the Driefontien gold mine outside Carltonville came to a standstill on Monday, when almost 75% of the workforce went on strike.

They marched to mine management offices and handed over a memorandum of demands which included:

  • The removal of the NUM's branch leadership (which was also requested during a sudden strike last week);

  • The equalisation of salaries across job categories (an accord for this in principle had been signed); and

  • The reinstatement of a number of previously suspended employees

The workers also complained their taxes were too high and demanded a salary of R12 500, echoing the demand of striking workers at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine, near Rustenburg.

"We are tired with our leaders," said protester Robert Jafta, who is an NUM member. Jafta said he earned R4 000 a month.

The mine obtained an interdict from the Labour Court on Monday requiring employees to return to work immediately.

On tour
Malema has been touring mines and addressing disgruntled mineworkers.

He has already spoken at Lonmin, where workers have been on strike for a month with the rallying cry that their pay be raised to R12 500 a month.

Forty-four people have died in violence associated with that strike – 34 of those were killed when police fired on protesters last month.

 

Malema has also spoken at Aurora's Grootvlei mine, which is in the process of being liquidated.

The league and its parent body the ANC have been at loggerheads over the nationalisation of mines, which the league is lobbying for, but the ANC has said is not feasible. Malema has been visiting mines and addressing disgruntled mineworkers over the past two weeks.

Earlier, NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said the union had sent a team to discuss striking Gold Fields workers' demand that their branch leaders be removed.

"There have never been any complaints about the branch there. We are surprised as well," said Seshoka.

This demand was contained in a memorandum handed over by the striking workers.

On Monday night and Tuesday morning, NUM sent senior union officials to speak to the workers to find out what their issues were and to then take appropriate action.

Seshoka said the branch leaders were elected by the workers themselves and they could replace them if they want to.

"Workers generally have got the right to do so, because that is the leadership elected by them," said Seshoka.

Seshoka said he did not think the events on mines over the past few weeks were a sign that workers were losing faith in the NUM.

"Not really. Our feeling is that we are seeing a situation in which one strike action prompts another. It's a mixture of a whole [lot] of issues ... We have got politics, we have got a whole lot of issues involved." – Additional reporting by Sapa

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