The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said on Thursday it told its members to stay clear of strike-hit platinum mines because of intimidation by itsrival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which is leading a 16-week stoppage over pay.
"We have said they must stay away until conditions are safe and the intimidation stops. We are expecting very few guys to go to work today," Sydwell Dokolwana, the NUM’s regional secretary on the platinum belt, said.
Amcu and the NUM have become rivals for membership in the platinum mines in recent years. Workers, seeing Amcu as the real driver for change at a strike at Anglo American Platinum in 2011, resigned from the NUM in droves, resulting in Amcu becoming the majority union in the platinum sector. Amcu also now represents 14% of miners in the gold sector.
Reuters reporters outside platinum producer Lonmin’s Marikana mine, 120km north-west of Johannesburg, said on Thursday there was little activity with virtually no one showing up to work.
Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) and Impala Platinum (Implats) have also been affected by the strike, the longest and costliest ever to hit the sector. The industrial action has halted 40% of normal global production of the precious metal.
On Wednesday, strikers from Amcu prevented others from returning to Lonmin’s shafts, thwarting the company’s efforts to end the strike.
Lonmin had been aiming for a "mass return" of workers but a spokesperson said "a very low number" showed up. The producers said many of the strikers indicated a willingness to accept the latest pay offer through SMS polls.
There were no reports of overnight violence, but four miners were killed at the weekend as some employees prepared to go back to work at Amplats and Lonmin. Implats’ main operations around the platinum belt town of Rustenburg remain completely shut.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa vowed on Wednesday to crack down on violence against those who wanted to return to work and arrest "within hours" strikers that were behind a campaign of intimidation.
Regional police spokesperson Thulani Ngubane said on Thursday no arrests had been made yet. "The perpetrators are known and it is only a matter of time," he said.
Meanwhile, Amcu said on Thursday it has to persist in the marathon strike.
Platinum producer Lonmin set May 14 as the deadline for employees to return to their posts, after the SMS survey indicated more than 60% of workers wanted to return to work.
Spokesperson for the platinum producers Charmane Russel said the companies would oppose an urgent application by Amcu to the Labour Court seeking to interdict the companies from communicating directly with striking workers.
"Amcu leadership has repeatedly indicated that the union will act in line with the mandate given by employees. Let us hear what employees want to do," she said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said that the workers remained on strike.
"Only an agreement could end this strike. Until such time an agreement is reached, the strike continues."
Amcu members at Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum, and Impala Platinum in Rustenburg and Northam in Limpopo downed tools on January 23 demanding a basic salary of R12 500 per month. They have rejected the company’s offer of 10%, which would see them earning a minimum of R12 500 by 2017. Mathunjwa said the union had moved from an initial demand of R12 500 immediately and suggested the increase be spread over four years.
"If it was not for the arrogance of the chief executives, an agreement could have been reached," he said.
Lonmin on Wednesday declined to say how many of its employees had returned to work.
"We are not going to be providing a blow-by-blow insight of the number of people returning because that’s what incites violence," spokesperson Sue Vey told the South African Press Association. "It is a process. People are returning to work but there has been intimidation."
The platinum producers recently resolved to approach striking mineworkers directly about their latest pay offer in a bid to end the strike.
Amcu objected, raising fears of friction between striking mineworkers and those who wished to return to work. Three miners and one of their wives were killed in separate incidents in Rustenburg since Sunday, prompting police to deploy reinforcements in the area. Mathunjwa objected to this, saying it was building up to a repeat of the events that led to the Marikana massacre.
‘Anarchy will not be allowed’
Speaking at Marikana on Wednesday, Mthethwa said: "Anarchy will not be allowed, whether disguised as industrial action or not."
More than 5 000 people had been arrested in the platinum belt in the past 20 months, and he warned that police were tracking those who instigated violence there.
National police commissioner Riah Phiyega denied police were reluctant to act in the wake of Marikana massacre of August 2012, where 34 striking mineworkers were killed in a violent confrontation with police.
The week before the shooting of August 16 2012, 10 people, including two police officers and two security guards, were killed. The 44 deaths are currently being by probed the Farlam Commission of Inquiry.
‘The other Marikana tragedy’
Phiyega said the police would remain in the Marikana area as long as the situation warranted their presence.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions in the North West called for tolerance and an end to intimidation in the area.
"We do not want see the other Marikana tragedy," provincial secretary Solly Phetoe said in a statement.
Trade union Solidarity asked for miners to be protected from intimidation, particularly as workers were "extremely vulnerable" once they returned home after shifts.
The strike has cost the companies over R17.8-billion in revenue and workers have reportedly given up more than R7.9-billion in earnings. – Reuters, Sapa, additional reporting by M&G Staff Reporter