/ 13 September 2012

‘We’ll bring mining companies to their knees’

Miners gathered at Blesbok Stadium
Miners gathered at Blesbok Stadium

"On Sunday, we are starting with a general strike here in Rustenburg," protest leader Mametlwe Sebei told a crowd of several thousand striking workers at a soccer stadium near Rustenburg in the heart of the platinum belt.

Striking Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) mineworkers demanded pay of R16 070 a month at Blesbok stadium on Thursday.

Gaddafi Ndoda, who described himself as a member of a newly formed workers' committee said: "To us, R12 500 is just a basic salary," he said, referring to the amount raised as a demand among many mineworkers over the past weeks.

"Anglo is the most-paying [sic] mine in the country, so our demand is different from other mineworkers," said Ndoda.

He said they wanted "nothing to do" with AngloPlats' Mageu beverage, and wanted their refreshment allowance to be R30 a day.

On Wednesday workers there complained about the quality of the Mageu, an energy drink made from fermented grains.

Ndoda said currently workers were not entitled to a safety and transport allowance.

"We want our transport allowance to be R60 daily and [our] safety allowance to be R1 500."

They also wanted the increase in their living-out allowance to be R2 000 – up from R1 700.

Song and dance
An "executive committee" of six members representing workers outside formal union forums had been formed and they were expected to take a memorandum to the mine's management in Klipfontein near the stadium, he said.

While heading towards the nearby offices, about half the workers who had been in the stadium accompanied the committee, singing and dancing, amid tight security.

As in the past week, the police had Nyalas stationed in the area and a helicopter overhead. Amplats security vehicles and security guards were also on alert, and a Netcare911 ambulance was on standby.

Workers carried knobkerries, sticks and whips. Some also carried umbrellas.

It appeared that a group of striking workers from Lonmin Platinum did not join them as hoped.

Amplats said it suspended operations on Wednesday out of concern for the safety of its employees and said there was no strike at the mine.

Chief executive officer Chris Griffith said the situation in the Rustenburg area was volatile and that people who wanted to go to work could not because of threats of violence.

"Anglo American Platinum has decided to suspend its operations in the Rustenburg area with immediate effect," he said.

"The suspension will continue until such time as operations can be safely resumed."

Peaceful resolution
Amplats' chairperson Cynthia Carroll said the company was in touch with authorities "at the highest level" to identify ways of working with government and the recognised labour unions to achieve a swift and peaceful resolution.

She said the company's Rustenburg platinum operations were already under financial pressure and the suspension of operations on Wednesday risked their long-term viability, the longer the situation lasted.

A strike at Lonmin entered its second month this week. Workers at Gold Fields' KDC West mine were also on strike on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has said it has been seeking an opportunity to engage with President Jacob Zuma and senior government officials to resolve the unrest in South Africa's mines.

President of Amcu, Joseph Mathunjwa, told reporters in Rustenburg that the union's formal requests were being considered.

"From day one of the [Marikana] massacres we are on record, asking for a meeting with the office of the president. They are still thinking of when they are going to meet us; they have acknowledged that our letter was received and said the president would respond soon," said Mathunjwa.

"We are still waiting. We have written to the Minister of Mineral Resources [Susan] Shabangu, Police Minister Nathi [Mthethwa] and the Labour Minister [Mildred Oliphant]. We have done all that and have copies of the letters … [as] proof," he said.

Mining indaba
The union called on Zuma to intervene and stop the ongoing unrest in the South African mining sector. Mathunjwa said Zuma had to convene an urgent, all-inclusive mining indaba.

"We believe that he is the high office in the country. We could share the direction on how to curb these sporadic work stoppages. It is in the interest of the country for him to intervene," said Mathunjwa.

He said the mooted indaba would have to deal with issues including minimum wages, housing, skills development and a mining victims fund for the sector.

Mathunjwa said Amcu had repeatedly denounced all the violent activity recently seen around the mines.

"As we have said in the past, Amcu denounces any violent conduct by any member, official or office bearers of the union. We have never encouraged our members to embark on any illegal or unprotected work stoppages," he said.

Amcu national treasurer Jimmy Gama said the ability to rectify the situation in the mining sector lay with Zuma.

"This seems to be an emergency situation where nobody seems to be winning the battle. In a country, the only person with power to summon everyone is the president. Hence Amcu is taking [the] initiative to request the president to deal with the matter," he said.

"It is high time that somebody speaks out and makes it loud and clear [to Zuma] to say 'president, this is time that you act'," said Gama.

Earlier, freelance journalists were told to leave the venue where Amcu was holding its "state of the mining industry" media briefing.

Before the briefing started, all journalists in the room were asked to introduce themselves and the media organisations for which they worked.

Gama, sitting next to Mathunjwa, told a cameraman who introduced himself as "a freelancer" to leave the premises because invites had been sent to media houses.

"We are not comfortable with a person who comes as a freelancer, because we haven't invited you. We would like you, sir, to excuse us," said Gama.

Two other journalists joined the cameraman as he walked out of the room.

Mathunjwa later said an Amcu media briefing at Melrose Arch, in Johannesburg, had once been "infiltrated by other [rival] unions". – Sapa