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Marikana peacekeeping force ‘a union minefield’

A peacekeeping force to address the increasingly violent climate in the Marikana mining region in North West, where four people have been killed in a month, is likely to prove impractical and counterproductive, industry analysts say.

They warn it amounts to treating the manifestations of the problem rather than its underlying causes. "It's extremely risky for a government that is in alliance with Cosatu – and by extension the NUM [the National Union of Mineworkers] – to deploy a peace force where Amcu is considered the enemy," said John Brand, an employment law director at the law firm Bowman Gilfillan.

"The government professes independence, but it is clear from its utterances that [Labour Minister Mildred] Oliphant and [Mineral Resources Minister Susan] Shabangu consider Amcu [the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union] enemies of the national democratic revolution. Even the deployment of the best-intentioned and disciplined peace force would be seen as an attack on Amcu."

In May, Business Day reported that Shabangu had told a central committee meeting of the NUM: "You are under siege by forces determined to use every trick in the book to remove you from the face of the earth. [They want to make sure] that no progressive trade union will be permitted in the mining sector."

In a radio interview during the two-day work stoppage at Lonmin in mid-May [in which workers demanded the closure of the NUM's offices at the mine], Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said statements by alliance members in which phrases such as "the NUM must fight at all costs" to "reclaim Lonmin" had shown there was a co-ordinated attack against the union.

This was the week after Amcu regional organiser Mawethu Steven was killed in a tavern in Photsaneng, near Marikana. Three members of the NUM have been killed in quick succession since then, the latest being Mbulelo Nqapo this week.

Oliphant's spokesperson, Musa Zondi, said this week that a peacekeeping force should not be seen as confrontational as it would not involve the police, but people specifically trained in peacekeeping.

"If Amcu has said that its own people are being killed, is a peacekeeping force not also in its interests?" he asked. "The mining industry is a key industry in this country and we can't have it under siege."

Volatile workplace
He said that Oliphant had spoken to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who has been entrusted with bringing stability to the sector, and "there are serious discussions about that. But the initiative came about regarding the question of a worst-case scenario."

Brand said the fact that a peace-keeping force was being envisaged was a serious indictment of the state of the country's industrial relations and collective bargaining in the mining industry only 10 months after Marikana. He said that a centralised bargaining body would only aggravate the situation.

"There is a failure to deal with the distinct interests like RDOs [rock drill operators] and more skilled miners. The bargaining, even at company level in the platinum industry, is too centralised and it doesn't deal properly with distinct interests. Now they want to make it worse by putting that same system at industry level. As it is there are distinct interests in particular mines, shafts and in circumstances and the bargaining is already very distant from the workplace and it would be even worse if it is made more distant at industry level. The disappointing thing is that Amcu doesn't seem to have learnt from the NUM's demise. They will do exactly as the NUM did and suffer the same consequences and the workers will seek out alternative unions who will better look after their interest."

Crispen Chinguno, a PhD fellow at Wits University's Society, Work and Development Institute, echoed Brand, saying the current violent contestation was a manifestation of underlying worker grievances.

'One of the parties will have to capitulate," he said. "There will have to be one dominant party before there can be talk of an alternative system that will allow more unions to operate. The NUM has to go back to the drawing board, restrategise and come back. July is too close for that to happen. Amcu has to fail first for the NUM to make a comeback. Amcu has been fighting for all these years, so it's impossible for it to accept something different to what it has been fighting for."

In a recent paper titled Marikana and the Post-Apartheid Workplace Order, Chinguno quotes a Mozambican worker to highlight how violence is rationalised in the volatile workplace. "Sometimes violence resolves long-standing problems. Ukulwa kuyawakha umuzi [violence can build a strong house]. Look at Mozambique and the Renamo war … our experience here with apartheid. We now have peace and democracy because of the sacrifice and the fight … otherwise, if we had not stood up and fought, this would have never happened."

The NUM's Lesiba Seshoka said he could not say whether the union would support a peacekeeping force, but it was desperate for a solution as the police had not made any arrests, perhaps as a result of poor training.

This week, Lonmin agreed that unions would need a minimum representation of 35% to allow them organisational rights, such as the right to recruit and hold meetings at the mine, and representation of 45% for collective bargaining and the right to full-time shop stewards.

The right to majority union status would remain at 50%, plus 1%. The NUM's representation at Lonmin has fallen to about 20% among unskilled and semi-skilled workers, whereas in the same categories Amcu's has risen to 70%.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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