Striking workers at Lonmin’s violence-ravaged Marikana mine in North West have vowed not to return to work until their demand for a more than 100 percent salary rise is met.
Almost 4 000 striking mineworkers spent a third day yesterday sitting on and around a koppie near the mine, “waiting for mine management to come and afford us a listening ear”.
Brandishing an assortment of weapons, they sang, danced and chanted traditional war slogans.
The workers, mainly rock drill operators, were demanding that their salaries be increased from R5 000 to R12 500, and they were “not prepared to compromise on our demand”.
They also maintained, amid reports that the violent strike was as a result of union rivalry over membership and dominance, that they were not acting under the auspices of any union.
After leaving it to the union to “negotiate our salary raise without any success for years”, they had decided to make their demands themselves.
Almost a week since their industrial action – described as illegal by the mine – started on Friday, the group were yet to present their grievances to management.
And since they downed tools, 10 people, including two police officers, have been killed.
Yesterday, the situation remained tense and volatile, with more than 1 000 police officers deployed to the troubled area between Rustenburg and Brits at the Wonderkop informal settlement.
One of the group’s leaders, who identified himself only as “Nzuza”, said the police had promised them on Tuesday that they would get management to come and address them at their meeting point – the mountain near the informal settlement. This had yet to happen.
Just before noon, heavily armed police drove into the area in about eight Nyalas and several other vehicles in an attempt to negotiate a truce with the group, who were armed with axes, homemade spears, sticks and pangas.
Nzuza told The Star that the police had said they were not in a position to discuss their core grievances.
“We decided not to engage them any further because we spoke to them while they were inside a Nyala, and we believe there were mine or union officials among them who refused to identify themselves.
“How else would a police officer communicate in Fanakalo if he is not from the mines?” Nzuza said.
He said workers were demanding that they be addressed by Lonmin chief executive Ian Farmer.
“How do they expect the situation to change if they’re going to ignore us, the reality of the situation? Workers have valid demands and they need attention immediately,” he said.
Workers also asked the police to relay a message to management to stop operations at its mines.
“We understand that workers were being escorted to their working areas by police. We don’t want anyone to work until our grievances have been attended to,” said another leader, who did not want to be named.
Meanwhile, Barnard Mokwena, Lonmin’s executive vice-president, human capital and external affairs, said the company had not yet issued an ultimatum to workers to return to work after the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union committed to intervene.
Mokwena said they were prepared to engage with workers through existing and recognised structures.
He said Lonmin was not prepared “to change our existing wage agreement, which will expire in the next year”.