President of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) Joseph Mathunjwa told the Mail & Guardian he is worried that the recent deployment of police to the strike-hit platinum belt in the North West is a repeat of events leading up to the Marikana massacre in 2012 where at least 34 protesters were killed by police.
Tension is mounting amid a heavy police and private security presence. Lonmin has called for workers to return to work on Wednesday after abandoning negotiations with the union and taking a revised wage offer to its employees.
"One should draw from history," Mathunjwa said, referring to when Lonmin went outside the normal collective bargaining process in 2012 to resolve wage demands. "In 2012, Lonmin left the NUM [National Union of Mineworkers] and engaged the workers directly. Subsequent to that engagement, the company and the workers failed to reach agreement, and the matter was referred back to the union"
When the situation worsened, "Lonmin called the police and they massacred the people," Mathunjwa said. "I have advised them [that] what they are doing [now] is a repeat of 2012 … I am getting very worried."
He noted that the state has departments that deal with labour relations issues, yet it has not intervened to assist the parties to come to an agreement. "But for the state to send police there now, it is clear they are siding with the capital," he said. "Everyone is worried; we want to have a settlement and people returning to work."
Show of force
On Tuesday evening, a large crowd gathered at the infamous koppie where the massacre occurred, before singing and dancing their way up to the Wonderkop stadium and through the hostels. Prior to the march, protesters burnt down wooden shop stalls, which smoldered as the march continued.
The demonstration appeared to be a show of force – a reminder of the danger faced by those who dared to return to work.
Four murders and a number of incidences have been reported in the past few days, and, according to NUM, are related to the strike and the fear of employees returning to work.
A few hours earlier at Anglo Platinum’s Khuseleka shaft, picketing Amcu members spoke to the M&G while employees, assumed to be non-unionised or belonging to the NUM or the United Association of South Africa, proceeded to walk and drive in and out of the shaft gates on their way to and from work.
"They are our brothers and sisters. We talk to them and play cards with them after their shift," said chairperson of the shaft committee Oscar Dokolwana."Our strike is peaceful. The murders are not something related to the strike. Everyone who dies here, NUM says is its members."
‘A right to go to work’
Mathunjwa denied that Tuesday evening’s demonstration at Wonderkop was organised by Amcu leadership. "How can a leader say to people they must stop people going to work? People who are not part of us have a right to go to work," he said.
Asked if he had lost control of his membership, Mathunjwa replied: "We control where we are picketing [largely in front of various shafts and the Wonderkop stadium], not in the community. I am not a councillor. It is not fair to say I must control people."
Meanwhile, platinum producers Lonmin, Impala Platinum and Anglo American Platinum will oppose a court application by Amcu over the companies’ direct communication with striking employees.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, the three companies said its efforts to end an almost four-month-long strike was not in contravention of regulations or agreements.
"The producers reject claims made by Amcu that any of [its actions] contravene the Labour Relations Act, recognition agreements or employees’ constitutional rights," it said.
The companies would ask the court to endorse their communication efforts to find a resolution.
Sake-Beeld reported that Amcu applied for an urgent court interdict to stop the mines from communicating a new wage offer directly to workers in the Johannesburg Labour Court on Monday. Amcu wants the court to stop the companies from directly contacting about 70 000 workers.
After the employers’ talks with Amcu leaders deadlocked, the mines began communicating directly with the mineworkers for the past two weeks to convince them to accept a new wage offer made in April. Amcu argued in court papers that the SMS campaign and pre-recorded phone messages to workers from the companies breached the recognition agreement with the mining union.
Amcu members at the three companies in Rustenburg and at Northam in Limpopo downed tools on January 23 demanding a basic monthly salary of R12 500. The strike has cost the companies about R14-billion in revenue and workers have given up over R6-billion in earnings.
Lonmin threatened that it might implement restructuring that could lead to job losses if striking employees failed to return to work on Wednesday. The companies offered Amcu a settlement on April 17 with a wage increase offer of between 7.5% and 10%. The proposed offer would have seen the minimum cash remuneration for entry-level underground workers rise to R12 500 a month, or R150 000 a year, by July 2017. – Additional reporting by Sapa