Striking mineworkers in the platinum belt must go back to work, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said in Rustenburg on Thursday.
The distressed state of workers and the continuing strike in the platinum mining sector was raised during a number of May Day speeches, including by President Jacob Zuma in Polokwane.
“We encourage all workers – not only NUM members – to go back to work,” NUM deputy president Thamsanqa Matosa said at Cosatu’s May Day rally at the Olympia Park Stadium in Rustenburg.
Zuma urged workers celebrating May Day to vote for the ANC in a final push to bolster his re-election bid in Wednesday’s poll.
Addressing a lacklustre crowd affiliated with Cosatu, Zuma pledged to support workers’ rights if re-elected to a second term.
“Workers of this country must know that in the ANC lies their future,” he told the crowd.
Zuma also used the rally to criticise the frequent strikes that have crippled South Africa’s mining sector over the past three months, saying workers should return to their jobs.
“Unions must be alive to the realities that endless strikes are not in the interest of the workers and not in the interest of the economy,” Zuma told the crowd of about 15 000, many of whom left during his speech.
“I think we should all agree that the time has come for the situation on the mines to change,” he said.
Zuma said the business sector needed to respect workers’ rights and pay decent wages.
NUM’s Matosa said the union had asked platinum mining companies to protect employees who had wanted to return to work.
“This is not a labour dispute – it is a strike intended to destroy the economy of our country,” he said.
The union had made progress in recruiting back some of its members who had joined the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) before and after a violent strike at Lonmin’s operations in Marikana in August, 2012, he said.
Amcu members have led a strike at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin since January 23, demanding a basic salary of R12 500 a month.
About 70 000 workers are affected.
North West ANC chairman Supra Mahumapelo told those attending the Rustenburg rally that Amcu should not be allowed to “kill and intimidate” workers.
He urged police deployed in the volatile platinum belt to remain there after the May 7 election.
With elections just five days off, Workers’ Day rallies were held by the larger political parties in various parts of the country and were mainly used for campaigning.
Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi appealed for unity within Cosatu and said workers “must not be used as a political ladder”.
He denied that Cosatu was isolating members of the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa), which had resolved not to support the ANC or any political party in the election.
Cosatu is in an alliance with the ANC and the SACP but Numsa is considering leaving the union federation.
Numsa leaders were excluded from the line-up of speakers at the Polokwane rally while leaders of other affiliates were allowed to address rallies across the country.
Speaking in Polokwane, Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini reiterated the union federation’s support for Zuma and the ANC.
“President Jacob Zuma is our leader; we respect you in Cosatu.”
The crowd, many wearing yellow ANC T-shirts or red trade union shirts, chanted “Zuma, Zuma, Zuma” as the president walked a lap around the stadium.
Meanwhile, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande used the rally to lambast opposition parties.
“On May 7, let us teach the opposition a lesson,” he said.
In eMalahleni, Mpumalanga, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa told a crowd wearing yellow Nactu T-shirts and green Amcu ones that unions which were political bedfellows with the ANC would not help workers.
At the same event, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa reiterated his support for the platinum miners’ strike action.
Castro Ngobese, national spokesman for Numsa, said its members were not surprised by Cosatu’s decision to snub its leaders.
He said Cosatu wanted to use the May Day rallies to convince workers to vote for the ANC.
“But workers are aware that under the ANC government (other) workers were massacred in Marikana, labour brokers were not banned and e-tolls were imposed,” he said.
“There is no good story to tell when 31.3 percent of workers in South Africa earn less than R3 000 a month,” Ngobese added.
In Kimberley in the Northern Cape, opposition leader Helen Zille paid tribute to workers helping to build the country.
“Those working, tiling, in factories, teachers, we owe a lot to you,” she said.