The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) leadership and hundreds of members marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria yesterday to garner support.
It was an unprecedented move that smacked of desperation as the union has spurned all government-initiated olive branches during the strike.
But president Joseph Mathunjwa, treasurer Jimmy Gama, and secretary Jeff Mphahlele presented a petition recording their unhappiness about how government departments and platinum mining companies have handled their demands.
The contents were not revealed nor was its over-arching objective but it did suggest that Amcu’s options have narrowed considerably after the Council for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Wednesday postponed talks between the two parties indefinitely because they are poles apart, seven weeks after talks started.
“The members will decide about the strike,” Mathunjwa told reporters, pointing to the bussed-in workers who had braved the rain and cold.
Perhaps even the employers’ firm line after Amcu had softened its stand on Monday put paid to the union’s ambition.
Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) says it still wants 39 Amcu leaders, including Mathunjwa and Gama, arrested or fined for contempt of court.
It says Amcu ignored a Labour Court order prohibiting the intimidation of employees or damaging property, and interfering with the business of Amplats.
Amplats is also suing Amcu for R591 million in damage to property during the strike.
Gama said: “We are in the process of changing the lives of the marginalised in the country, we cannot be distracted by these irresponsible actions that aim to dislodge us.”
The six-week strike involves about 70 000 Amcu workers at Lonmin, Amplats and Impala Platinum.
Andrew Levy, a labour law consultant, said on Tuesday that the court action would complicate matters at the CCMA as Amcu would become resentful.
Levy noted that Amplats had been left with little choice but to approach the courts amid increasing incidents of violence and damage to property.
“No strike lasts forever, it will eventually crumble only when the workers realise that they cannot get what they want and they are left with no prospects,” Levy said.
Publicly the parties appeared light years apart, with the employers offering 9 percent maximum, John Brand, partner at Bowman Gilfillan, said.
“I don't think the workers can hold out much longer having lost 10 percent of their year's earnings, due to no work, no pay, at the end of this week,” Brand said.
“I think the legal actions put some pressure on Amcu but will not, on their own, break the strike,” said Brand.
Yesterday two Amcu shop stewards appeared in court for attempted murder. They were arrested after the non-striking employee asked them for a lift to the Khuseleka shaft on February 3, and instead of taking him to work they allegedly drove to a picketing site where the man was stripped naked and assaulted, police said.
He lost three fingers in the incident, police said. The case was postponed to Wednesday.
The legal action included the contempt of court application.
Northam Platinum, whose Zondereinde mine in Limpopo was halted for 79 days by a wage strike, reported last week it had lost R750 million in revenue and that underground conditions had deteriorated .
Glyn Lewis, the outgoing chief executive at Northam, said continued intimidation, associated violence, disregard for the law, and the infringements of a person's right to work appeared to be receiving little or no attention.
“We can only hope common sense will prevail, sooner rather than later, in the current impasse and the rest of the industry for the benefit of all stakeholders,” he said during a results presentation last week.
He said the industry was in trouble because of the cost and the time it took to establish new deep-level mines, the lack of necessary infrastructure in a dysfunctional legislative and an over-regulated environment. ”The consequences are simple, there will be a decrease in mining investment, a lower demand for manufactured products that support the industry with associated economic consequences...,” Lewis said.