/ 14 September 2012

Amplats is ‘not like Marikana’

Workers gather at the Bleskop Stadium
Workers gather at the Bleskop Stadium

The strike at Amplats had nothing to do with ­Marikana or an economic revolution, leaders said on Thursday, and they did not intend to join in the broader action – unless they have to.

But at least one group would like to fold its strike into an outright revolution, complete with regime change.

"Our issue started on May 31. Marikana at that time didn't have anything," said strike committee leader Evans Ramokga, while waiting between police Nyalas for an Amplats manager to accept a memorandum of demands. "It took our action time to build up. Lonmin doesn't have anything to do with it.

"If Anglo is not prepared to give us what we want, we will then work collectively. We have already started to communicate with Lonmin, but we don't want that."

Nonetheless, space has begun to open up for calls for radical change, and not only from former youth league president Julius Malema.

"We have taken the National Union of Mineworkers out of its offices at this mine and we will take government out as well – the government that sends police to kill us," Mametlwe Seipei of the Democratic Socialist Movement told the crowd assembled at a stadium on the Amplats mine near Rustenburg.

Mass march
Seipei is not a worker at the mine and claimed that the movement represented workers and communities from in and around Rustenburg.

"Next week, we will be staging a mass march on the Union Buildings to force a change in this mining industry. There is enough wealth in these mines to give everyone a decent house, a good education and enough food," Seipei said.

Seipei said the march would also call for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma and his Cabinet because they had "failed and lied to the people".

Although his utterances were not met with the same fervour as calls for higher wages, Seipei still received hearty applause and an energetic "awethu" to the "amandla" that ended his speech.

Socialist rhetoric from the podium and outrage at the salaries of bosses notwithstanding, none of the workers the Mail & Gaurdian spoke to wished to see their employer shut down and their jobs lost. They also did not believe it likely that their strike would become an extended dispute, saying the company made plenty of money but did not want to share it.

The affected Amplats shafts are among the most marginal of the company's operations and were considered contenders for closure even before the labour action.

Despite what workers say is a non-negotiable demand of a take-home salary of R12500 a month as part of an overall R16 070 package, most workers at the Amplats protest could not describe the origins or reasoning behind the amount, which has become enshrined at Lonmin's Marikana mine.

Value of work
"You know, R12 500 is nothing to do our work," Lucas Rapai, an Amplats winch driver, told the M&G.

Rapai said his current take-home salary of R7 500 after deductions was not equal with the value of the work he did.

"They can't say they don't have money. Look how much profit the stakeholders get and the whites at the mine are earning well," he said.

Sfana Chauke, an underground superviser at Amplats, echoed Rapai's sentiment, saying mine management should not bother negotiating with workers.

"They may as well close this mine if they don't want to give us our money. I have too many who depend on me. I need R12500. I don't just want it," Chauke told the M&G.

Chauke also reiterated the workers' stance that unions were no longer allowed to negotiate on their behalf. "The NUM can fuck off. They do nothing but steal our money and don't help our situation."

Leaders go even further than that.

Political parties
"Lonmin are starting to bring in political parties; they are starting to bring in chiefs," said Ramokga. "Here we don't want any political parties. We want this thing between us and management. If Zuma comes here, we won't give him a chance [to speak]. If pastors come here, it will delay this thing. We don't need that."

But whereas the workers at Marikana were by the middle of this week starting to show the first signs of wavering in their resolution to demand R12 500,  saying they needed to get back to work to feed their families, the fresh strikers at Amplats had no doubts. There would be no negotiation, several said on Thursday, only an acceptance of their demands or an ongoing strike.

That is reminiscent of the early days of the Marikana strike, but there the similarities end. The striking group at Amplats showed none of the overt hostility to outsiders or workers with different points of view that is common among the Marikana group. Although the protesters displayed weapons, they consisted mostly of sticks and there were only a few sharp weapons among a group of several thousand, which included many women, again unlike Marikana.

The Amplats strike also does not feature the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

"We don't have that Amcu thing here," said a worker, who would not provide his name, on Thursday. This was confirmed by both strike committee members and Amcu itself. Asked whether the union had any presence at Amplats mines or any contact with the striking group there, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa had an unequivocal answer: "No".

The main difference between Marikana and Amplats, though, is the lack of a body count at the latter and the pride the Amplats workers have in their discipline. Many strikers said they had no intention of doing harm to anyone and that violence would not be useful in achieving their demands. And they have a compliment for Amplats management in that regard.

"That they shut down operations, I like that thing," said Ramokga. "If they say operations must operate, then some workers sneak to work and some workers who are unhappy could kill those workers. We are happy it is safe and shut down, so when they give us our money and say we must go back we can go back."

In Marikana, the body discovered by a group of journalists on Tuesday, ignored by striking workers gathered nearby, has been identified as Dumisani Mthinthi, a 51-year-old shop steward of the NUM. His body was apparently dumped near the koppie after he was brutally killed.