Lonmin unrest spreads to rivals

Published Aug 23, 2012


Johannesburg - Local mining authorities are considering plans for an international road show to convince foreign investors that South Africa’s mining industry remains open for business even as the recent unrest appeared to have spread to other platinum mines yesterday.

The government and the mining industry are anxious to put a lid on a crisis that has catapulted the country back into international headlines after police shot dead 34 protesters and striking rock drill operators at Lonmin’s Marikana complex in Rustenburg last week.

Bheki Sibiya, the chief executive of the Chamber of Mines of SA, said that an urgent meeting of mining industry stakeholders, called by Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu on Saturday, had agreed that there was a need to address investor concerns following the Lonmin unrest.

“There was an agreement that probably not too long from now there may well be a need for a multi-stakeholder visit to some of the important investor destinations to explain this issue face to face, that this is what we are doing, we are looking at fixing it this way… to prevent any of this happening in future,” he told reporters.

“For us as the chamber, we will be part of the process to explain to the shareholders, the investing community, that we are still open for business.

His comments underscored the anxiety felt within the mining industry as the country grapples with the fallout from the Lonmin unrest.

Signs that the discontent was spreading to other platinum mines came as hundreds of rock drill operators gathered at the north shaft of Royal Bafokeng Platinum’s (RBPlat’s) Rasimone mine near Rustenburg on Wednesday to demand higher wages.

“For us the challenge is to contain what happened in one specific area so that it does not spill over,” Sibiya said.

Mark Cutifani, who is the chamber’s vice-president and chief executive of AngloGold Ashanti, denied that the unrest was spreading. He said 95 percent of the local mining industry was operating normally.

But events in Rustenburg on Wednesday told a different story.

The demand by rock drill operators for employers to increase their salaries spilled over from Lonmin to other platinum mines, despite an intervention by President Jacob Zuma, who addressed thousands of mineworkers who were continuing the protest in which at least 44 people have been killed since August 10.

Hundreds of rock drill operators and general workers from RBPlat’s Rasimone mine gathered on Wednesday at north shaft to demand salaries of R12 500 a month.

This is the demand at the heart of the Marikana dispute that has left Lonmin struggling with production losses and a steep hill to climb to meet the terms of about R8 billion in bank loan facilities.

On Tuesday, Northam Platinum said the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which clashed with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) at Lonmin’s Marikana complex, was recruiting at its Zondereinde operation.

On Wednesday Anglo American Platinum (Angloplat) said its workers had bypassed their union representatives and made wage demands directly to the company on Friday.

On Saturday, Julius Malema, the expelled former president of the ANC Youth League, urged other mineworkers to join in the campaign being waged by the Lonmin workers and on Tuesday he accompanied the striking miners to lay murder charges against the police involved in shooting dead 34 and wounding more than 70 last Thursday.

RBPlat said the unprotected industrial action by some 500 mineworkers had interrupted operations at one of Rasimone’s two shafts. Production was unaffected at the other shaft.

Earlier the SABC reported that up to 1 000 mineworkers had staged the protest after resigning their NUM membership and appointing a committee of seven to represent them. Alfred Matsau said he worked as a pump attendant and was paid R5 900 before deductions. “I want the R12 500 so that I can improve my life,” he said.

Matsau said the workers conveyed their demands and grievances to NUM on Monday to take to the mine management. On Tuesday, NUM called the workers into a meeting to inform them that the mine intended to retrench workers, Matsau said. “We want the mine to retain the current workforce and pay us well.”

Wednesday’s demand for salary increases had come as no surprise at RBPlat.

On Monday Steve Phiri, the chief executive, said management was concerned by the possibility of copycat protests at the firm.

“Last week we had similar demands [to those] placed at Lonmin from our rock drill operators. The situation managed to be quelled. Our trade unions are addressing the issue,” Phiri had said on Tuesday, during a financial results presentation in Johannesburg.

However, Amcu distanced itself from the protest.

“We don’t have recognition rights at RBPlat and at Angloplat,” Joseph Mathunjwa, the president of Amcu, said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Zuma visited Lonmin’s Marikana mine where he received a warm reception from thousands of striking employees who chanted “Qina msebenzi qina! (Be strong worker. Be strong!)”.

At one stage, the president’s bodyguards surrounded him so tightly that he was was hardly visible while the strikers gave their account of the violent events that led to the police shooting that killed 34 last week. Zuma stepped free of his protectors when he told the strikers that he would tell Lonmin management of their demands. The employees clapped for Zuma once he had finished his address.

Meanwhile, officials from the Chamber of Mines said they had met with Amcu on Wednesday afternoon for the first time in a bid to understand the union’s work around the country. They said that the chamber had sought the meeting early last week when it became clear that the Lonmin situation was heating up. – Additional reporting by Bloomberg

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