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08 Sep 2017 00:00
Troubles: Workers were unhappy with the National Union of Mineworkers at the time of the 2012 wage strikes. They burnt NUM merchandise and tried to stop a rally from taking place. (Delwyn Verasamy)
Just three months after the police massacred 34 mineworkers during an unprotected labour strike at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in August 2012, the president and the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) at the time, Senzeni Zokwana and Frans Baleni, were invited to London by former diplomat and investment banker Lord Robin Renwick.
The purpose of the trip — which the union’s current secretary general says was neither known about nor mandated by its national executive committee — was to reassure investors spooked by the massacre.
Some insiders claim that one of the assurances was that the NUM would keep its wage demands low. But Baleni says there was nothing untoward about the trip.
Baleni’s successor, David Sipunzi, said this week he was “shocked” by news of the meeting and questioned whether it was related to the claims of an “enemy within” that circulated at the union’s May 2012 elective conference.
Sipunzi said the phrase was coined “because of contestation during the 2012 congress, where almost every position was contested”.
He said those contesting Baleni’s and Zokwana’s positions were referred to as “the enemy within”, with claims they had been funded by mine bosses “because they had promised that there shall be no strikes in the mining industry”, he told the Mail & Guardian from Greece this week.
“It will be shocking to me that the very same leadership went to London to assure the mining companies that there will be no strikes,” Sipunzi added.
But Baleni hit back, saying the “enemy within” phrase referred to branch-level contestation in the union for shop steward positions.
“We had instances at branch level where, for example, a member wanted to be a full-time shop steward and convinced a lady who is unemployed to claim the current shop steward raped her, and promised her a job in return. That was the enemy within.
“We said there is a book titled The Enemy Within by the British NUM, which was destroyed from within. It had nothing to do with election contestation,” Baleni said.
The NUM’s membership on the platinum belt dropped sharply after the massacre, when the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union recruited mineworkers disenchanted with what they said were the NUM’s low wage demands.
But Baleni dismissed suspicion by NUM insiders that London investors tried to sway the union’s wage demands in the wake of the tragedy.
“I can assure you, that’s hogwash. There has never been any planned meeting with investors where they approached us to lower demands,” he said.
Baleni confirmed that JP Morgan had facilitated the 2012 London trip and that the meeting with international investors took place, but said there were no hidden motives.
“We had a programme of outreach in terms of engagements to put in the union perspective. Annually, we would go to meet investors both inside and outside the country. Allan Gray was another firm we met,” Baleni told the M&G.
Renwick, a former British ambassador to South Africa, was vice-chairperson of investment banking at JP Morgan at the time. Writing to Zokwana and Baleni on behalf of JP Morgan clients who invest in South Africa’s platinum mines, Renwick facilitated the pair’s trip to London to discuss the Marikana massacre and labour instability.
“I am writing to invite you … to enable you to explain to major international investors and heads of mining companies based in London the recent developments in the mining sector in South Africa,” Renwick wrote to the union officials in a letter dated October 30 2012.
“There has been a lot of concern among investors here about the recent wave of strikes, and particularly wild-cat strikes, drastically affecting production and labour relations on the mines in South Africa.
“It definitely will be beneficial to investment and, therefore, to job creation in South Africa if you are able to visit London to reassure investors and mining executives alike about the prospects for the future,” Renwick continued.
London-based mining companies embroiled in unprotected strikes in South Africa at the time included Lonmin Platinum and Anglo American.
Sipunzi said the London trip was never cleared with the union. “As a member of the NEC [national executive committee] then and now, I was never aware of such a mandated trip and have no knowledge of such a mandated trip,” he said.
Insiders say the controversy about the London trip is really about the rebellion currently faced by Sipunzi, because his relationship with union president Piet Matosa has deteriorated.
Sipunzi was elected at the NUM’s last conference by a slim margin, with Matosa retaining his post. The NUM president is known to have backed Baleni to return as general secretary.
The union is due to elect new leaders next year, and Sipunzi’s supporters have vowed to resist any attempts to oust him.
NUM health and safety chairperson Peter Bailey this week said: “It’s really saddening that factional differences must now be carried into the public domain.”
Bailey said the NUM had picked up the tab for the London trip “because it is an invitation accepted by the NUM and there is no free lunch. We can’t let you pay, then you say we should do this because you paid for us. It’s a principle of the union.”
Sipunzi said he would investigate if the NEC approved the payment.
He also disagreed with Sipunzi and said no international trips had been undertaken in secret. “All international trips are sanctioned by the NEC.”
Travel documents seen by the M&G show that Baleni and Zokwana flew business class and arrived in London on November 18 2012, and left two days later. They stayed at the Crowne Plaza hotel. The entire trip cost just over R110 000.
“The document we present to investors is not a secret; it’s a public document. We talk about membership, historical background and what we believe is a living wage for workers. Our discussions also include politics in South Africa because it impacts on us,” Bailey said.
Known as one of the most influential British investors in South Africa, Renwick had a friendly relationship with Nelson Mandela. He also met then NUM general secretary Cyril Ramaphosa just a week before the 1987 miners’ strike was called off.
Most recently, Renwick met Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema in London, sparking claims by the Black First Land First movement that he is a hidden hand controlling the red berets.
This week, Baleni played down Renwick’s standing among mining union officials, and the 2012 meeting.
“It should not be concerning. I don’t even know that person; I can’t recall who he is. We’ll always be invited by asset managers and investors [for talks],” he said.
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