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Families queue for food aid as Amcu strike enters 18th week

Thousands of people have received food aid in the platinum belt, where a strike has crippled output at mines owned by the three biggest producers for almost 18 weeks and left many starving.

About 12 000 people have benefited from packs of maize, rice, beans and bread distributed in the Rustenburg area, where many of the platinum mines are located, said Imtiaz Sooliman, chairperson of Pietermaritzburg-based disaster relief organisation Gift of the Givers.

“People are really desperate and insecure,” said Sooliman on Thursday. “They’ve lost everything. We’re seeing lots of people who are malnourished and are becoming ill. It’s absolute desperation. It’s 100% to do with the platinum strike.”

More than 70 000 miners who are members of the main union at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum Holdings and Lonmin have halted work since January 23. Employees do not get paid when on strike in South Africa, which produces about 70% of mined platinum. The workers have forfeited R8.5-billion ($818-million) in wages, while the companies have lost R19-billion in revenue, the producers said on a joint website.

“The crowds were highly organised and queued for a long time with dignity and composure,” Sooliman said of the first day of the aid drive on May 19.

Pay demand
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) wants basic monthly pay, without benefits, to reach R12 500 by 2017 for entry-level underground employees. The demands would equate to a 30% increase in the first year of the agreement, which the companies say is unaffordable. They are offering raises of as much as 10% annually. South African inflation was 6.1% in April.

The union and the three companies on Wednesday started mediation under the auspices of Labour Court Judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker to try end the strike. The talks continue on Thursday, with three days set aside for the process.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said on Thursday he could not comment on the negotiations before Friday.

In Rustenburg, a city of 500 000 about 120 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, mining-related industries account for about half the jobs and 60% of the economy, Thapelo Matebesi, a spokesperson for the local municipality, said earlier in the strike.

Miner deaths
A labourer who was a member of the minority National Union of Mineworkers was stabbed and killed at the Sondela informal settlement in Rustenburg in the North West province on Thursday, the NUM said in an emailed statement. He was on his way to work at Anglo American Platinum’s Union mine, which straddles the North West and Limpopo provinces.

Another three miners and one of their spouses have been killed this month, at least 20 acts of violence were reported last week, and there have been incidents of intimidation against employees and bus drivers providing transport to mining-company workers, the producers and police said.

Amcu last month started a fund to support families of striking members, with the organisation making R1-million available and office bearers contributing R50 000. That equates to about R14 for each miner on strike, Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara said on May 19.

Gift of the Givers has received support from the public for its work in the platinum belt, with donations and money from churches, mosques and medical organisations, Sooliman said.

“If it doesn’t stop soon, or there’s intervention, this thing could explode as frustration and anger sets in.” – Bloomberg

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