Johannesburg - Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan warned yesterday of political forces misleading mineworkers as “demagogues” fuelled the platinum strike.
The strike enters its 11th week today, with workers, companies and the national economy suffering heavy losses.
“We have had people who have been out of work for three months, families are suffering – we must ask who is going to benefit from an extended strike like this, where neither of the sides is actually moving,” Gordhan said.
“Of course, each side is going to hold its particular position but as there are also political forces that are at play here, and one hopes that the large number of workers that are involved are not being misled politically or by demagoguery that seems to be entering our politics as opposed to what is in the interest of the people.”
He did not identify the political forces that he likened to agitators, but the Democratic Socialist Movement, a founding member of the Workers and Socialist Party, and lately, Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters party, have been active campaigners on the North West platinum belt since the Marikana massacre in 2012. Both support the nationalisation of the mines.
Gordhan was speaking at a post-Budget breakfast in Durban held yesterday in partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Treasury, Absa Bank and Telkom.
More than 70 000 workers from Impala Platinum (Implats), Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) and Lonmin have been on a strike organised by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union since January 23.
The workers are demanding an increase in the minimum wage to R12 500. Employers said they could not afford more than a 9 percent increase.
Talks facilitated by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration between the union and companies broke down, with neither side budging.
Gordhan’s comments on the strike, the first by the senior cabinet minister, came as Chris Griffith, the chief executive of Amplats, said in an interview after the company’s annual general meeting in Johannesburg yesterday that its Rustenburg mines were now being considered for closure.
The company had “already indicated we’re exiting Union mines; Rustenburg mines are now part of the consideration”, Griffith said.
“We’re now thinking very seriously: does it form part of the future of this company?”
Yesterday, Amplats and Lonmin confirmed that they had sent force majeure notices to some suppliers of goods and services to its strike-affected operations.
“I can confirm that we have sent force majeure notices to certain suppliers of goods and services,” Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said. No force majeure notices had been issued to customers, she said.
A force majeure notice is used to exempt parties from their contractual obligations, usually due to causes that could not be anticipated or are beyond their control.
SABC radio news reported yesterday afternoon that Lonmin had also issued force majeure notices to 13 suppliers.
“Most of the suppliers are really feeling the impact of the strike because they can’t supply the mine with any commodities at this stage because we are not creating orders due to the fact we are not mining anything,” Lonmin commodity manager Mpho Mochekela said.
South Africa accounts for more than two-thirds of the world’s mined metal, used for jewellery and in catalytic converters in vehicles to reduce harmful emissions.
Amplats, the largest platinum producer, shed 7 438 jobs last year after it merged five mines at its Rustenburg complex into three to help it return to profit. As many as 1 400 posts would be sacrificed this year after reclamation at the closed mines was finished, it said in a statement on February 3.
Amplats, Implats and Lonmin had lost R11.1 billion in revenue since the walkout started on January 23, while employees had forfeited R5bn in pay, the producers said on a joint website.
Gordhan told the Durban audience that the government had been working hard to get the employers and employees to come to some sort of wage agreement.
“We have had on and off success in this,” he said, referring to the crafting of a wage framework agreement for the mining industry, which has been put together by several government departments.
Asked whether it was not time for South Africa to engage in some of sort of “economic Codesa” – referring to the multiparty negotiations in the early 1990s to that led to a political settlement – Gordhan said that before the country reached the stage of a Codesa negotiation, it had to find a solution to the problems in the mining industry.
“Before we do that, we have to see if we can strike agreements that can get us moving forward and get production off the ground again.”
He said the government wanted to encourage an early settlement and both workers and employers needed to ask themselves what they stood to lose in this.
The economy was losing out because South Africa was not getting any employment taxes from those above the R70 000 a year salary threshold.
“If this goes on for too long, it’s going to impact on corporate taxes, as it did about a year ago,” Gordhan said. - Business Report