12,000 South African miners fired as strikes spread to public sector

By on October 11, 2012

For two months, wildcat and protected strikes have taken place in South Africa. There have been industrial actions in the platinum, gold, iron ore and transportation sectors of the economy, Africa’s largest industrial sectors.

On Oct. 5, in response to the escalating labor unrest, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the world’s largest platinum producer, fired 12,000 of the 28,000 workers who had been off the job for several weeks. Management said the workers were terminated when they refused to appear at a disciplinary hearing. However, the mine workers said they are determined to continue the struggle to regain their jobs with wage increases.

When police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to break up a strikers’ gathering on Oct. 4, they killed Mtshunquleni Qakamba, 48, an Amplats employee. Workers’ representatives have pledged to file murder charges against the police for the death of their colleague.

George Tyobeka, a worker representative at Amplats in Rustenburg, said, “What we want to do is open a case against the SAPS (South African Police Services). They shot against the people … until they killed one of our colleagues. Employees weren’t fighting, they were just sitting on the hill.” (iafrica.com/sa, Oct. 8)

Qakamba’s death comes after the postponement until Oct. 22 of a governmental commission of inquiry into the August deaths of 46 striking miners at the Lonmin Platinum’s Marikana facility.

The Marikana miners have since returned to the job, having won a 22 percent wage increase.

Two other fatalities at Marikana were reported on Oct. 5 and 7. One of the dead was a union branch leader for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the largest affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). He had reportedly participated in the commission of inquiry.

NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said, “An unemployed cousin … of an NUM shop steward was shot and killed last night [Saturday] at the shop steward’s house in what is reported to be a case of mistaken identity. According to the friend who was seated on a chair at the time the incident happened, gunmen appeared from nowhere at the Marikana hostel and immediately shot the steward’s cousin.” (iafrica.com/sa, Oct. 8)

Seshoka concluded, “From the manner in which the secretary of the branch was killed it is clear that the killers were ready for some time. The poor leader was reportedly shot by seven bullets. This is clearly no longer about wages but a clear attack on the NUM, COSATU, and its members.”

NUM leaders have accused Amplats of racism. Seshoka said that security officials directed derogatory names at a group of union representatives at the mines. He also charged that Amplats bosses have thwarted NUM’s efforts to resolve the strike. A meeting between workers’ representatives and management there was scheduled for Oct. 8.

Strikes may spread to ports, railways, public sector

A sector of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) has continued its strike. More than 20,000 truckers have refused to deliver oil, fruit and other commodities for more than two weeks. They are demanding a 12 percent pay hike.

The bosses’ group, the Road Freight Employers’ Association, was scheduled to meet SATAWU representatives in court on Oct. 8.

Port and railway workers have also threatened to strike. Vincent Masoga,­SATAWU spokesperson, indicated that the union had applied to the “Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration inorder to expand the strike to the ports and railways.” (S.A. Press Assoc., Oct. 8)

Public sector workers represented by the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) are also threatening to strike. Tahir Sema, SAMWU spokesperson, said, “The union is mobilizing towards a national protest, which would begin as soon as this week.” If there is a strike, 190,000 civil servants would walk off the job, demanding “market-related salaries.” (Reuters, Oct. 8)

The wave of wildcat and official strikes has caused problems within the South African economy. The currency, the rand, dropped to a three-year low on Oct. 8. Mohammed Nalla, an economic analyst for Nedbank Capital in Johannesburg, said, “International investors are really quite concerned about South Africa. Structurally and fundamentally, the outlook on the rand is deteriorating.” (­Reuters, Oct. 9)

The worldwide economic crisis has impacted capitalist economies throughout the globe. Bankers and industrialists are pressuring governments to impose austerity pay and benefit cuts.

Workers in Europe have responded, mostly notably through general strikes in Greece, Spain and Portugal. A general strike was held in Indonesia during the first week of October.

More than 100,000 workers in South Africa are currently on strike. Until their demands are met these work stoppages will continue.

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