Johannesburg - Lonmin, one of three platinum producers embroiled in a strike entering its 17th week today, failed to see boots through the turnstiles on the day it set as the return-to-work deadline.
The bid to to break the back of the protest was Lonmin’s third notable miscalculation.
Mineworkers heeded the call of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) to gather at Wonderkop Stadium yesterday and reaffirm their commitment to the union demand for a R12 500 a month minimum wage.
“If the situation remains the same, we will review the deadline. We are not sure how the review will look at this stage,” Lerato Molebatsi, Lonmin’s executive vice-president for communications and public affairs, told SAfm yesterday, adding that staff feared returning to work for safety reasons.
The day was characterised by a strong show of force by police, strikers dancing in defiance and employers waiting patiently for workers to arrive. It ended calmly.
A Business Report photographer said no one went to work yesterday. “People met at the stadium to listen to the leadership of Amcu,” he said.
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa praised workers at the stadium for their resilience, saying: “If you wanted a 9 percent increase you would be at work, but you wanted a living wage, and that is why you are still here.”
The deadline fiasco follows the killing by police of 34 protesters on August 16, 2012, after a wildcat strike at Lonmin’s Marikana mine. Lonmin then gave striking employees an ultimatum to return to work or face disciplinary action.
The company was forced to postpone on the deadline after the government called for a week of mourning following the bloodshed.
The SAPS yesterday hosted its first press conference since the strike began on January 23.
National police commissioner Reah Phiyega said about 5 000 arrests had been made over the past 20 months in Marikana for various reasons.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the police had been concentrating on the area for the past two weeks and visibility had been beefed up. Officers escorted buses from pick-up points to shafts around the area.
Tensions escalated at the weekend when four people were killed and violence and intimidation were reported.
Lonmin claimed an overwhelming response by staff to its return-to-work campaign. It used SMS polls as the gauge to set the deadline for employees.
The company would not provide “a blow-by-blow insight of the number of people returning because that is what incites violence. People are returning to work but there has been intimidation,” spokeswoman Sue Vey told Sapa.
Lonmin has warned it would implement restructuring and cut jobs if the strike continued. It is under more pressure to restart operations than Anglo American Platinum or Impala Platinum because the strike has affected close to 100 percent of its operations.
“Although employees may express a private desire to return to work, to do so in public is a different matter altogether. Intimidation is real and powerful,” said Michael Kavanagh, a metals and mining analyst at Noah Capital Markets.
Somadoda Fikeni, a consultant at the Human Sciences Research Council, said Lonmin’s deadline and Amcu’s decision to dig in its heels were acts of desperation by both parties without a clear strategic outcome.
“Lonmin was counting on the frustration of employees who have run out of money or the division between Amcu and the National Union of Mineworkers. They were hoping to fracture the employees and divide them in half and isolate the striking from non-striking workers,” Fikeni said.
Marius Oosthuizen, a researcher at Gordon Institute of Business Science, said the strike was a symptom of a larger national issue of inequality. In the case of the miners, he said, the issue was why some were paid a pittance compared with management.
“Lonmin is attempting to get on with business as usual, while Amcu is pushing to fundamentally change the rules.”