Spy claims imperil mine wage talks

The startling claim that a former Lonmin Platinum employee doubled as a state spy in 2012 has caused a wave of distrust to wash over the platinum sector as it heads into wage negotiations.

Workers and their employers are due to start talks next month to update a three-year wage agreement reached in the aftermath of the Marikana massacre.

The workers say the suspicion that spies were actively manipulating their sector changes everything. The companies say it changes nothing.

On Sunday, Rapport carried the news that the former Lonmin human resources head, Bernard Mokwena, had been on the payroll of the State Security Agency (SSA) while he negotiated – or refused to negotiate – with workers in the days before the massacre. Mokwena has denied ever being employed as an agent or being linked to the alleged funding of a splinter union, the Workers’ Association Union, to slow the rise of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

Amcu’s president, Joseph Mathunjwa, said the allegations raised all manner of questions, including of third-force manipulation. “Who can rule out that even the killing of the 10 people before the main massacre was instituted by Mokwena and the state apparatus in order to make workers seem violent?” he asked. Police killed 34 workers at Marikana in 2012. Ten others were murdered in what was believed to be an escalation of violence between supporters of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Amcu.

A former Amcu workers’ committee organiser, Thebe Maswabi, approached the courts last year, claiming he was instructed by President Jacob Zuma to set up the Workers’ Association Union to draw members away from Amcu.

READ MORE: “SA must find renewable options” and “Numsa and Solidarity: An unlikely working-class alliance“.

Lonmin’s spokesperson, Sue Vei, said the allegations that Mokwena was a spy had no merit and would not affect the wage negotiations. “We believe the allegations are untrue and we have no other knowledge of the matter, so I wouldn’t expect it to have any impact,” she said.

Mokwena resigned from the company in December 2014. The NUM said it believes the allegations about spies operating in the platinum belt are part of a plot to destabilise unions.

“I expect that that union was set up to destroy Amcu but ended up taking NUM members,” the union’s deputy general secretary, William Mabapa, said. “It had an impact on us as a trade union. To me, there are more revelations to come.”

The metalworkers’ union Numsa has been making significant inroads at mines in the North West with the recruitment of semiskilled workers and will also take part in this year’s wage talks. It said claims that Mokwena was a spy merits a full investigation. “It is definitely going to bedevil any relationship the union will have with a company like that,” said Karl Cloete, Numsa’s deputy general secretary.

The president of the National Council of Trade Unions, Joseph Maqhekeni, who negotiated on behalf of workers after the violence in 2012, said the wage talks would be haunted by reminders of the apartheid regime’s influence.

“It’s not surprising to hear about SSA agents in the negotiating chamber. In the previous regime, the government gave advice to the private sector about how to deal with workers. Those people are still with us in the industry and their hearts have not changed,” Maqhekeni said.

The Chamber of Mines said it was not aware of spy allegations and it did not believe the relations between the companies and workers on the platinum belt would be soured.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

Related stories

Marikana murder trial resumes

The eight-year battle for justice played out its next round in the Mahikeng high court this week

Zuma vs Ramaphosa? Neither is the leader South Africans deserve

Neither statesman could command sufficient authority in an ANC that remains mired in corruption and infighting and at the behest of big capital

George Bizos dies at 92

Renowned human rights lawyer George Bizos, who defended Nelson Mandela and other struggle icons during the treason trial and Rivonia trial, represented families at the TRC, and later represented Marikana miners’ families, has died

SA in dire need of a political spring tide

The only time change has occurred in South Africa is in response to global events such as World War II. The country is once again facing such an event — Covid-19 — and will have to react

Sticking it to the boss is not so simple, according to an expert

Experts disagree on the meaning behind carrying sticks during strike action, a debate that will be aired at the CCMA on Wednesday

Review: ‘A New Country’ portrays the lingering aftertaste of a bittersweet freedom

Taking its cues from the dimming of the hope suggested by rainbowism, ‘A New Country’ attempts to articulate the depths of betrayal South Africans feel

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Air pollution link in 15% of global Covid-19 deaths

Researchers have found that, because ambient fine particulate air pollution aggravates comorbidities, it could play a factor in coronavirus fatalities

Mboweni plans to freeze public sector wage increases for the...

The mid-term budget policy statement delivered by the finance minister proposes cutting all non-interest spending by R300-billion.

SAA to receive R10.5-billion government bailout after all

Several struggling state-owned entities received extra funds after the medium term budget policy speech

BMW X3 thrives in the M stable

The compact SUV is so at home with its new badge that’s it’s surprising it didn’t happen sooner

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday