/ 6 October 2012

‘This is the beginning of the war’, warn striking Amplats miners

Hundreds of the 12 000 miners sacked by the world's largest platinum producer in South Africa on Saturday rejected their dismissal at a rally that also mourned a colleague killed in clashes with police.

Their leaders spoke to the workers at a stadium in Rustenburg and encouraged them to reject the dismissal by Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), and to keep protesting until they win a pay rise.

"This is the beginning of the war," one leader Gaddhafi Mdoda said to loud cheers.

"Management is just trying to frustrate us. We won't back down," said another, George Tyobeka.

"If Anglo American are not willing to put something on the table, they must pack their things and go," Mdoda told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Some workers said they would use violence to force mine management to rehire them.

"If they are not willing to talk to us many things will be burnt starting from today," said Hendrick Mpondo (27).

"Right now some of the workers were planning to go and burn the smelters."

Near the Thembelani shaft, three vehicles torched on Friday night still lay by the roadside, a sign of the violence that has accompanied the strike.

Daily demonstrations
Groups of workers from various shafts made their way into the stadium under police escort, singing and chanting slogans, while a helicopter circled the area.

Workers observed a moment of silence for a colleague who died during clashes with police on Thursday, near a hill where they have been staging daily demonstrations.

Despite threats of violence, the workers later dispersed peacefully, but vowed to continue their protests until their demands are met.

Most of them were unarmed; unlike on other occasions where sticks and other forms of homemade weapons have been brandished.

Workers are pushing for at least the 11-22% raises that those at Lonmin's nearby Marikana mine received after a strike that left 46 dead, 35 of whom were killed by police.

In Marikana on Friday evening a National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) branch leader at a different mine was shot dead in what the union has described as an assassination.

"The NUM is shocked at yet another assassination of one of its branch leaders in Marikana," the union said in a statement.

"This comes after the death of the NUM branch chairperson last weekend and the attack on another branch leader who escaped while his wife was killed."

Unions have come under fire as workers reject the traditional negotiation structures and accuse their guilds of conniving with mine managers.

Around 28 000 Amplats workers have been on a wildcat strike for three weeks at the firm's sprawling facilities in Rustenburg, which account for around a quarter of the world's platinum production.

Amplats on Friday said the miners had failed to appear before disciplinary hearings "and have therefore been dismissed in their absence".

It is the latest crisis to hit South Africa's vital minerals sector, which has been crippled by a wave of violent disputes over miners' pay since August.

The company said the strike had so far cost R700-million in lost revenue.

Spectre of violence
But with many miners unwilling to give up their demands for higher pay and Amplats taking a tough line, the spectre of violence looms.

At least seven people have been killed around Rustenburg in strike-related violence this week.

With around 100 000 workers are currently on strike across the country, President Jacob Zuma – who has publicly kept his distance from the crisis – has called for the work stoppages to end.

"We should not seek to portray ourselves as a nation that is perpetually fighting," he told business leaders in Johannesburg Friday.

Investors, already spooked by earlier violence, warned the Amplats dismissals could deepen a crisis that has already paralysed an industry accounting for around 20% of the continental powerhouse's GDP.

"The government is doing nothing," said Peter Attard Montalto, a strategist with Japanese bank Nomura, who warned the strikes had already shaved 0.2% to 0.3% off third quarter growth.

Analysts have warned that the strikers' demands will result in job losses in the country where one in every four employable people is already out of work.

In February, Amplats' rival Impala Platinum fired 17 000 workers, only to rehire them a few weeks later as part of a wage agreement.

Amplats on Friday indicated it was open to "exploring the possibility of bringing forward wage negotiations within our current agreements." – AFP.