Cape Town - Strike leaders from the platinum belt are on a whirlwind tour of Cape Town and the province to build a “solidarity network” in support of their four-month-long struggle for a “living wage”.
Since Sunday, a trio of underground workers has been on a tight schedule – speaking at about a dozen community meetings in the city’s suburbs and townships. The largest such meeting was held at the Mowbray Town Hall last night.
Jacob Khoza (a winch operator for Anglo American), Ramasela Etsang (a rock drill operator, also for Anglo) and Molefe Phele (a supervisor for Lonmin at Marikana) have been sent by their union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), as part of a general campaign to win public support for the miners’ demands.
The strike of platinum miners is entering its fifth month, and is the longest in the sector’s history.
Miners are demanding an industry minimum wage of R12 500 a month (up from the present rate of about R5 700).
Amcu argues that the increase is possible if there is more equitable income distribution between the company executives (who receive millions in bonuses) and workers in the sector.
The first public engagement session was at a fund-raiser concert in Observatory on Sunday night.
There the miners shared their experiences of health hazards at work, and low pay – which compounded hardships for miners and their extended networks of dependents.
“It is dangerous,” said Phele.
“There is a lot of dust down there, which affects your lungs in the long run. Many of us have TB as a result. Then there are other dangers – you can prop the earth up but when it decides to collapse, there is nothing you can do. Twenty-eight men can die in an instant... without R12 500, we are not going back.”
Phele complained about recent attempts by mining management to bypass negotiations with Amcu – by communicating wage offers directly to workers via SMS.
Such attempts at “dividing” the strikers and “breaking their resolve” were to blame for a spate of violence in the miners’ camp in recent weeks, he said.
Going on more than four months without pay, miners and their families now face life-threatening conditions above the ground.
Last week, Gift of the Givers dispatched a medical team to the platinum belt and distributed food parcels to thousands of families.
The aid organisation, however, accused Lonmin management of hampering its relief efforts at Marikana.
“Malnutrition and related illnesses is the primary concern,” said spokeswoman Emily Thomas.
The trio also petition for donations of food, toiletries and cash. A donation drive last night coincided with World Hunger Day.
This weekend the tour will move on to farmworking communities around Robertson, Barrydale and Ladismith.
These were centres of unprecedented farmworker strikes in 2012 and early last year.
These engagements form part of a drive to connect workers in other sectors with the struggles of miners on the platinum belt.
The hope is that a “solidarity network “could be established with working class people across the country… It is time for workers to realise that neither the government nor the bosses are on their side… we have to stand together,” said Khoza.
The team was made up of officials from the departments of mineral resources, labour and the National Treasury, who would be supported by representatives from the mining companies and Amcu. - Cape Argus