South African miners’ strikes continue, spread to transport workers

Miners march to Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, Sept. 10.

Strike actions continue by workers in the platinum and gold mines in South Africa and have spread to the transportation industry.

As the struggle goes on, the government investigation began into the unrest surrounding the wildcat strike, led by rock-drill operators, at Lonmin Platinum PLC. On Oct. 1, the proceedings in Rustenberg started with the reading of the names of the 34 workers killed by police on Aug. 16.

Ian Farlam, the retired judge who is directing the Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana tragedy, commented, “Our country weeps because of the tragic loss, and this commission will work expeditiously to ensure the truth is revealed.” (, Oct. 1)

Not only is the four-month inquiry scheduled to investigate circumstances surrounding the Marikana unrest, but it is also mandated to examine worker-management relations in the mining sector, the miners’ living conditions and the real issues behind the unrest at Lonmin.

Its findings could be damaging to the government of President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress. At the ANC’s December congress, elections will take place and policies will be agreed upon for the 2014 national elections.

Week two of truckers’ strike

The miners’ upsurge has affected transport workers. Thousands of drivers have gone on strike, led by the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU), an affiliate of the 2-million-member Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

Truck drivers marched through Johannesburg on Oct. 1 urging the Road Freight Employers’ Association to agree to a 12 percent pay increase, double what was offered. RFEA’s statement reads, “We are aware that the strike has an effect, not only on our members and the industry, but also on the South African public and economy as a whole.”

During the march, a SATAWU leader said, “We must keep up the fight for economic freedom. We must not let the fight die. People must be with us. They must not work and side with the employer.” (Business Day Live, Oct. 1)

The strike has resulted in violence in some regions, including Gauteng, ­KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, where trucks have been torched and accidents caused by rocks thrown at vehicles. SATAWU has rejected responsibility for the violence, saying their members were not involved.

Many people are beginning to stock up on fuel, food and medical supplies, which cannot be easily transported during the strike.

Bosses threaten to close mines

With industrial actions spreading from the mining sector to transport, the capitalists in South Africa are concerned about further disruption to the economy. There is already high unemployment, and downsizing continues in the most organized industries.

On Oct. 1, Anglo Gold Ashanti Ltd. announced that it might close some mines and fire workers if the wildcat strikes go on much longer. All their mines were shut down after 24,000 workers walked off the job a week ago demanding better pay.

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) in Rustenburg has also been closed due to strike activity. The bosses gave workers an Oct. 1 deadline to return to the job or face dismissal.

The Chamber of Mines indicated that it would engage in discussions with ­COSATU in an effort to get the mining industry back to full production. “We are especially interested to hear if they [COSATU] are able to convince workers to return to work … and what their proposals are for entering wage negotiations in light of the unprotected strike action,” said Elize Strydom, senior executive for employment relations. (BDL, Oct. 1)

On Sept. 29, COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told mineworkers at Gold Fields KDC West facility in Carletonville that the federation was prepared to “take up the fight” for wage hikes in the industry. Although he did not support the wildcat work stoppages, Vavi committed COSATU to work for a R12,500 ($1,500) monthly pay rate.

Because of strike activity in the mining areas, 75,000 workers are idle. Although South Africa remains the largest source of platinum production in the world, the gold industry has declined tremendously over the last two decades, as mine closures and downsizing have escalated since the ANC came to power in 1994. n

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