Three mines at a standstillComment on this story
Three of South Africa's biggest mines were at a standstill on Wednesday, with thousands of workers reiterating a growing call for a pay increase to R12,500.
A strike at Lonmin Platinum in Rustenburg went into its second month, with the company reporting an average 1.8 percent attendance at all its shafts on Wednesday.
Further afield, near Carletonville, security guards fired teargas at strikers at Gold Fields' KDC west gold mine.
The company said they had been intimidating and threatening contractors, people at a training centre, and had rushed towards a train.
Eighty-five percent of the workforce there did not heed a call to return to work, in spite of an interdict by the Labour Court declaring their strike unprotected.
Anglo American Platinum, also in Rustenburg, said it had to “redirect” its staff from their premises for their own safety, and that large groups gathered nearby were not their workers, as claimed.
Workers angrily denied this with one saying: “If it were not for this industrial action, most of us would be deep inside shafts, sweating for Anglo Platinum. Do not be tricked by them,” said protester Themba Ngaba.
In a statement, Lonmin said it was saddened after a body was discovered near the area where strikers gathered on Tuesday.
“We strongly condemn the on-going violence and again urge all parties to actively work towards restoring peace and stability within our operations,” the company said.
This brings the death toll associated with the Lonmin strike to 45 since August 10.
Ten people, including police and security guards, died in the week before police fired on protesters, killing 34 on August 16.
The strikers have said they will go back to work only if their salaries are increased to R12,500.
Other issues have also been raised.
At Gold Fields, workers wanted the branch leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) removed, and pay equalisation.
At Amplats, workers complained about the quality of an energy drink provided for them.
The call for R12,500 has been supported by expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who visited the Gold Fields workers on Tuesday.
He also demanded the resignation of the NUM's leaders, a call which was dismissed by the union, and a national mining strike for five days a month.
Meanwhile, a meeting between clergy, traditional leaders, and worker representatives was taking place parallel to efforts by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA) to restart pay negotiations at Lonmin.
The NUM was on site at Gold Fields to try and get workers to return to their posts, but workers there said the union was too late.
NUM regional secretary Mbuyiseli Hibana said: “We want them to go back to work.”
Nandi Nompozolo, a miner for five years, asked: “How can they talk about the crisis when they were not here? We are their people. Now this morning we must come and meet them at the stadium, so the people didn't want to go to them.”
A leader of striking workers at Amplats said they were threatening to halt all mining operations around Rustenburg within a week if their employers did not accede to the R12,500 pay rise demand.
“We want to assure you that by Monday next week there will be no mining operation in Rustenburg,” said strike leader Evans Ramokga.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa expressed concern over the amount of time it was taking to resolve the Lonmin situation, in spite of the support and resources directed at a resolution.
He suggested that Cyril Ramaphosa, a Lonmin director, “who has a wealth of experience in resolving labour disputes, to help resolve this long-drawn-out industrial dispute”.
Ramaphosa, who is now a businessman, was instrumental in the early organisation of the NUM.
Recruitment company Manpower SA expressed concern at the economic impact of the disruptions.
Regardless of the price of platinum surging in light of the issues, the strike meant mines were not meeting their contractual obligations or paying debtors.
“Not only will this lead to further job losses as well as investor uncertainty in South African mines, but it will no doubt lead to changes in mine processes that could lead to less dependence on high workforce numbers in an attempt to curb the crippling effects strikes have on their operations,” said managing director Lyndy van den Barselaar. - Sapa