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Joseph Mathunjwa the dictator? Amcu leader accused of crushing dissent

Against a backdrop of stalled platinum mining wage talks, Associated Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) members have accused the union’s president, Joseph Mathunjwa, of “crushing dissenters calling for fresh leadership”.

The allegations come amid deadlocked wage negotiations between Amcu, Impala, Lonmin and Anglo American, with companies and workers preparing for potential strikes.

But, according to three of the union’s representatives, this has not stymied calls for a national congress within its regional structures, by members who fear that they could be forced to strike should the next phase of mediation talks collapse.

They claim that, because of a prevailing climate of fear, workers won’t challenge Mathunjwa at mass meetings where the decision to strike is taken.

“The way a consensus to strike is reached is troubling. Sometimes workers will raise their hands for a strike just because it’s Mathunjwa asking for it,” said one of the shop stewards, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being victimised. “So we’re saying, let’s have new elections at national level to ensure they have everyone’s blessing.”

Former Amcu member Makhanya Siphamandla says he is all too familiar with the consequences of making a public called for leadership change.

“We made the union huge … The leadership made us branch and regional leaders of Amcu,” said Siphamandla, one of the union’s first organisers on the platinum belt.

But, according to him, things quickly soured when “almost the whole of Anglo’s Rustenburg section called for a leadership election to be held” at the union’s 2014 regional congress. As a result, the congress was never held and nearly all of the shop stewards were axed, including Siphamandla.

His expulsion from the union, which he says essentially belongs to Mathunjwa, came in the wake of a purge of other shop stewards at Anglo Platinum. These included Gaddafi Mdoda, Thebe Maswabi and Godfrey Lindani, who played a pivotal role in helping to swell Amcu’s ranks during a six-week unprotected strike at the mine in 2013.

“After we ended that strike, we wanted a national congress to elect leaders from the Rustenburg section, because we were dominating the union. But we were shown the door,” Lindani said.

But Amcu’s general secretary, Jeff Mphahlele, dismissed the claims, adding that, from 2011, the union “always consulted with members”.

“We make them feel like they are part of the leadership. That’s what kept the union together.”

His claims of unity could soon be put to the test. Amcu has officially declared a deadlock with all three platinum mines after demanding a minimum wage of R12 500, and a 15% increase for its higher-paid members. It’s understood that the three companies are offering inflation-based increases of about 6%.

When asked when the union would hold its next national elective congress, Mphahlele said it had yet to set a date.

Mathunjwa was not available to respond to allegations.

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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.

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