Johannesburg - A potentially deadly showdown pitting striking mineworkers against their non-striking colleagues was averted at Marikana, North West, on Wednesday.
But any glimmer of hope that the drawn-out strike in Rustenburg’s platinum mines could end dissipated when disgruntled mineworkers dug in their heels, vowing to stay away until their wages were increased to R12 500 a month across the board.
In a last-ditch attempt to end the four-month-long strike, management at three of Rustenburg’s platinum mines - owned by Anglo Platinum, Lonmin and Impala Platinum - promised to dispatch buses to various nearby settlements to ferry miners to work.
The mines bypassed the majority union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), and contacted their employees directly through SMSes.
Lonmin had set Wednesday as the date for workers to return to work, claiming its SMS survey had indicated that more than 60 percent of the workers wanted to go back to work, leaving Amcu incensed.
“The purpose of the employers is to starve you to death. We won’t be threatened by SMSes,” said Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa, addressing thousands of mineworkers at Wonderkop Stadium in Marikana.
“There are people who stayed in jail for 27 years, and those who embarked on lengthy hunger strikes but did not die.”
Mathunjwa received a hero’s welcome when he arrived in Marikana, with miners forming a guard of honour as he exited his sleek car and walked towards the podium.
He seemed to have hit the right chord, daring employers to go ahead with their threats to fire the striking workers.
“Jobs are lost even when there are no strikes. If they retrench they must start from the top and implement (the principle of) first-in, first-out, starting with (Lonmin chief executive) Ben Magara.”
Earlier, a tense atmosphere enveloped Marikana as hundreds of striking miners gathered near the Lonmin mine.
Reports that mine bosses would dispatch buses to ferry workers to work on Wednesday morning angered Amcu members.
Some draped in thin blankets and brandishing knobkieries, they toyi-toyied in groups and chanted pro-Amcu slogans and sang anti-government songs.
A large contingent of mine security guards and police officers, including those from Gauteng’s public order police, kept close watch on the strikers. A police helicopter hovered above.
“No R12 500, no work, no production. Asijiki (we won’t give up),” said Tutlo Kgosiene, a striking miner, showing a text message from Lonmin asking workers to return to work.
Four people have been killed and several injured in strike-related violence since reports on Monday that the mine bosses were pushing to resume operations.
Anglican Bishop Joel Seoka and Greg Nicholson, one of the lawyers representing families of the slain Marikana miners,
addressed the workers. Mine bosses and the government came in for stinging criticism.
“Comrades, Ben Magara doesn’t hear us from Heathrow Airport,” said Mathunjwa, in a sarcastic reference to Lonmin’s British owners.
“The mineworkers in Australia earn R80 000, but you only ask for R12 500. Comrades, the purpose of the capitalists is to kill Amcu and the workers.”
He and other Amcu senior leaders accused mine executives of peddling lies about Amcu and negotiating in bad faith.
They also compared the mine bosses to Satan and themselves to the Israelites trying to escape from slavery in Egypt and seeking emancipation in Canaan.
Mathunjwa said: “Their mothers are Satan. They are very insensitive, arrogant and very selfish. They have egos, very big egos, these people. They are very oppressive and think (only) of themselves and their families.
“We have moved (this far), so let’s not look back… Canaan is where we are going,” he said.
Mathunjwa also accused the government of “repeating the same mistakes it did in 2012”, when the police shot and killed 34 striking miners at Marikana.