Labor unrest spreads in South Africa mining sector

September 10, 2012

Labor unrest spread to Gold Fields International’s KDC gold mine in South Africa when 15,000 went on a wildcat strike, stopping operations there on Sept. 10. Meanwhile, the labor dispute at the world’s third largest platinum mine, Lonmin’s mine in Marikana, continued into a fourth week with few workers returning for duty there.

At a second platinum mine, Implats, 15,000-plus workers are demanding a 10 percent pay rise although they are continuing to work, spokesman Johan Theron said.

Lonmin PLC platinum mine said just 6 percent of its 28,000 workers turned up Sept. 7 at its mine in Marikana, west of Johannesburg. Mine drivers drove around looking for workers to pick up, but the buses returned to the mine empty, The Associated Press reported.

Strikers have threatened to kill any miners or managers who do not respect their demand for all work to stop until Lonmin agrees to a monthly take-home pay of 12,500 rand ($1,560), about double their current wages.

Hundreds of chanting miners descended on one of the mine shafts, carrying traditional spears and sticks. They marched under the close eye of armed police in riot gear, some in armored cars, others on foot.

Miners told The Associated Press they are getting desperate and do not have enough money to feed their families because of the no-work, no-pay strike. One said a loan shark is refusing to give money to any but old customers. Still they said they remain resolute and will not return to work until their wage demand is met.

Lonmin had hoped many more miners would come to work since a peace accord was signed last week with three major unions. But it was rejected by a breakaway union and strikers who say they do not want to be represented by any union.

The government brokered the peace deal after police shot and killed 34 miners and wounded 78 on Dec. 16, a mass shooting reminiscent of apartheid-era days that has traumatized the nation of 48 million.

The last of the dead miners were buried during the weekend, one in Lesotho and three in South Africa. The Daily Dispatch newspaper quoted a family member as saying that one of them, Thembelakhe Mati, was wounded in the shooting and got away to hide in a shack, fearing he would be arrested if he went to the hospital for treatment.

Half a dozen buses carrying mourners who had attended the funerals in far-flung parts of the country returned Monday to a shantytown of tin-walled shacks without water or electricity near the mine.

Union rivalry is at the root of violent illegal strikes that have been troubling the mining industry that is the engine driving Africa's largest economy. The breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, or AMCU, has this year poached thousands of workers from the National Union of Mineworkers, South Africa's largest and politically connected workers' representative.

AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa told AP that he will be attending wage negotiations at the Lonmin mine. But he said his continuing participation depends on his union not being sidelined to observer status.



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