Mail and Guardian

Miners burnt tyres, barricaded roads and set roadside stalls alight near Lonmin’s platinum mine to stop fellow strikers from returning to work.

The march in North West was aimed at keeping striking workers united in their pursuit for higher wages. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Hundreds of traditional weapon-wielding miners barricaded roads and burnt down roadside vegetable stalls near Lonmin’s North West platinum mine on Tuesday in an attempt to block fellow strikers from breaking rank and going back to work.

Lonmin and other producers have appealed directly to striking miners to return to work, skirting the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which has threatened that “something else” could happen if companies continue to address workers directly.

About 1 000 members blocked the main road leading to the mine shafts with rocks and burning tyres. They set fruit and vegetable stalls alight as they marched near Lonmin’s Marikana mine.

One protester, who declined to give his name, said the march was aimed at keeping striking workers united in their pursuit for higher wages.

“We will go back but we need money first … We don’t want to be split into two, that’s all,” said one Amcu member outside the Lonmin mine.

Police presence
The South African Police Service sent more officers to the area on Tuesday to protect miners who have decided to ditch the 16-week strike that has halted 40% of regular global output and dented already sluggish growth in the country.

Rustenburg police spokesperson Thulani Ngubane said police had set up park-and-ride facilities around the mines to handle the arrivals.

It is unclear how many workers will be coming back but the three big platinum firms – Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin – say a majority of the 70 000 strikers they have contacted directly want to end the strike.

“We are prepared for any eventuality,” Ngubane said, although he acknowledged that it would be difficult to provide security for the miners in the settlements that ring the main mines. Four miners have been killed in the area in the past three days.

Four armoured police vehicles were stationed outside Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, where police killed 34 striking miners in 2012.

Amcu shop stewards said the police had broken up an illegal march by union members at Marikana.

Lengthy strike
Amcu members have been on strike at Amplats, Implats and Lonmin since January pressing for higher wages, but talks have gone nowhere.

Lonmin has said it expects more miners to start returning to work on Wednesday after it made its wage offer directly to employees, sidestepping Amcu.

Implats has been using SMSs to conduct a vote on its offer, which was expected to be concluded later on Tuesday. Amplats said a majority of its workers wanted to return to work.

“The main reason they are not coming to work is because they are being intimidated,” said Amplats spokesperson Mpumi Sithole.

The firm provided bus vouchers to its employees in the Eastern Cape province, where many miners have their homes, to return to Rustenburg and most of them had returned to the mines, she said.

The producers say the strike has so far cost them R17-billion in lost revenue and employees have lost nearly R8-billion in earnings.

Amcu angle
Amcu’s leaders maintain that most of their striking members are not happy with the latest offer of a raise in pay of up to 10%.

The companies say that would raise the overall minimum pay package to R12 500 a month by July 2017, including cash allowances for things like housing, but Amcu says this is not enough.

“We have remained so far apart. A deal with Amcu at this point in time seems completely out of the question,” Amplats chief executive Chris Griffith told regional radio station Talk Radio 702. Griffith added that most Amplats miners wanted to return to work.

Amcu initially demanded an immediate increase to R12 500 in the basic wage, excluding allowances, but softened that in March to staggered increases that would amount to R12 500 rand within three or four years – still a third more than what the companies are offering in basic salaries.

The strike highlights the discontent among black miners who feel they are still not reaping the benefits of the country’s mineral wealth two decades after the end of apartheid. – Reuters, additional reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Ed Cropley and Ed Stoddard.


Lonmin SMSs fuel tension among Marikana miners

13 May 2014 17:30 Rapula Moatshe

Violence is flaring up on the platinum belt as miners are divided between those wanting to return to work and those threatening them if they do.

Lonmin has been sending SMSs directly to striking mineworkers asking if they want to return to work. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The angry community of Bapong village near Marikana, where a mineworker was found dead in his shack on Saturday afternoon, want Lonmin managers to stop sending SMSs asking people to return to work.

Community members at a meeting hosted at the tribal hall in a section called Legalaopeng on Tuesday asked their headmen to take up the issue with mine managers in Marikana.

Residents said they would monitor the situation tomorrow morning to make sure that no miner goes back to work.

Many people say the SMSs have fuelled tension among the workers.

The meeting was convened three days after the gruesome discovery of a mineworker’s body. Lucky Nkaelang (47), a Lonmin employee at One Shaft, was stabbed to death along with his Mozambican girlfriend Lulu Maramba (38) on Friday night.

Their neighbour, who didn’t want to be named for fear of victimisation, said she became concerned after noticing that the victim’s home had remained locked up for most of the day. The place was also used as a shebeen. She contacted the deceased’s relatives.

Untimely death
The deceased’s younger sister, Ivy Nkaelang, said Lucky’s untimely death had come as a shock and was extremely sad.

Members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) at Impala Platinum and Anglo American Platinum in Rustenburg and Northam in Limpopo went on strike on January 23 demanding a minimum wage of R12 500 a month.

Workers said they wouldn’t report to work tomorrow because they fear for their safety. They have rejected repeatedly the companies’ wage increase offer of 9%.

Amplats chief executive Chris Griffiths told Talk Radio 702 in Johannesburg that despite the executives being paid huge salaries, R12 500 was still unaffordable.

He said the majority of employees wanted to return to work but feared intimidation by the striking workers.

Scared to work
A mineworker at Three Shaft in Marikana was sent an SMS yesterday, but said he was scared to go back to work.

The SMS reads: “Please ignore the previous working times. It should be from 07:00 and end on 16:00 so employees can travel to and from work during May. If you are unsure please contact HR or the Wages Help Desk on 080 232 3237 or please send a Please call me to 42775.”

Those who replied to the SMSs have been promised security for their journey to work and back to their respective homes.

They told the Mail & Guardian that non-striking workers had threatened to attack those who dare report for duty. They said the mine companies wouldn’t provide security for their homes, where they are vulnerable to attack.

Another 60-year-old Lonmin mineworker from Saffi Shaft was found murdered between the shaft and the Bob mine hostel. The deceased sustained multiple stab wounds to his back, chest and ribs.

At Lonmin’s K3 shaft, another worker burnt to death after he was allegedly set alight at his shack at Bighouse Informal Settlement on Saturday.

No arrests
North West police spokesperson Brigadier Thulani Ngubane told the M&G on Tuesday afternoon that no one had been arrested in connection with the killings.

Police are still keeping an eye on the situation at the Rustenburg mines.

In April, a 47-year-old miner’s car was torched in Thekwane outside Rustenburg.

National Union of Mineworkers’ member Livhuwani Mammburu said: “We have on several occasions called law enforcement agencies and security at the platinum belt to be on high alert and protect our members and other employees who are going to work, but that hasn’t been happening.”

Ngubane has accused the leaders of the Economic Freedom Fighters of fuelling tension on the platinum belt after they pledged their support for the four-month strike. The party plans to donate R50 000 to the strike fund started by Amcu.

On Monday, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa condemned the killing of three miners. “The protection of those involved in the labour disputes in the North West is a matter that government takes extremely seriously,” Mthethwa said.

Three shops belonging to foreign nationals were set alight on Tuesday afternoon and it is believed the striking miners are behind the arson attacks.