A Gold Fields executive said an internal petition showed the majority of South Deep employees wanted to return to work. Photo: Bloomberg
JOHANNESBURG – Members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) are expected to resume their duties today at Gold Fields’ South Deep mine in Westonaria following the intervention of national office bearers.

Gold Fields shares yesterday surged 5.63 percent stronger on the JSE in intra-day trading to close at R45.05 a share as the market digested the news.

Union Deputy President Philip Vilakazi confirmed yesterday that the national executive had called off the crippling strike, which had entered its sixth week, in line with the union's constitution to do so and also in the interests of members who wanted to return to work.

“Let the workers go back to work and allow us to engage with the mine management on how to make things better for our members,” Vilakazi said.

The union's branch leadership had led the strike since November 2 to oppose the retrenchment of 1 500 employees, including contractors at the loss-making mine.

The 13-member branch leadership were suspended on Monday, reportedly following the stabbing of Ndlela Radebe, the union’s Gauteng regional chairperson. Radebe was stabbed during a mass meeting held at a stadium in Randfontein, where NUM members unanimously voted for the end of the strike, said Vilakazi.

“This (the strike) has not been an easy situation to address.

"We have people who have their own interests. Some have been retrenched and have nothing to lose. There are also those who want to return to work,” he said.

In a letter to employees on Tuesday, Martin Preece, Gold Fields executive vice-president of the South African region, said that the strike had ended following the directive from the NUM regional office as it was not serving the interests of its members.

“As we've communicated, we have also received confirmation through the internal petition we ran that the majority of South Deep employees wish to return to work,” Preece said.

Last month, the company said that the retrenchment of the 1 082 employees and 420 contractors was final. The company announced a sweetener in a last-ditch attempt to end the strike that included an offer to paid affected workers with an additional one-month payment for service and portable skills training.

Ian Cruickshank, the chief economist at the Institute of Race Relations, said continuing with the strike would have been detrimental for employees.

“Continuing with the strike was going to be a disaster for their families, especially at this time of the year. The problem is that union officials call people on strike and they do not give them an alternative source of income,” he said.

He also said that gold was a sunset industry with Statistics South Africa announcing on Tuesday that production in October had dipped by 15.1percent year-on-year.

Company spokesperson Sven Lunsche said yesterday that despite the decision by NUM’s head office to pull the plug on the strike, the union’s branch members had continued to intimidate people who wanted to return to work.

“The NUM branch, or people in support of the branch, are still threatening violence on people who are going to work,” said Lunsche.

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