JOHANNESBURG - Tensions between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) have continued to stalk widows of the 44 victims killed during the Marikana massacre beyond their husbands’ graves.
The widows of the 10 men who were killed in the week preceding the massacre say they remain trapped in a cycle of pain as the underlying tensions which led to the bloodshed continue.
The women say the union rivalry that led to the deaths has filtered down to them five years after the massacre. Some and other family members have been appointed by Lonmin in various roles and the platinum producer is also paying for their children’s education. “Everybody is talking about the 34 mineworkers who were killed on August 16, the very same 34 that were responsible for the killing of the 10 before the massacre,” says a widow who spoke to Business Report on condition of anonymity.
“Now they want a holiday, for what? You cannot compare Marikana with June 16 because those people were fighting with one spirit and for a common cause.” The widow is referring to a call by EFF leader Julius Malema last week for August 16 to be declared a national holiday. More than 44 people were killed in mid-August 2012 in a violent unprotected strike sparked by a demand for Lonmin, the world’s third largest platinum producer, to pay a R12500 monthly salary.
Among them were police officers, security guards and Lonmin employees, whose wives feel that their husbands’ deaths are not given the same prominence that the 34 who died in the police shootout receive. There is fear of victimisation and reprisals in the area so all the widows speak on condition of anonymity.
One of the widows says her husband was a NUM member but the union has distanced itself from them. “Why have we been thrown away like dogs? We are not treated equally,” she says.
“The NUM has distanced itself from us; they tell us they are trying to help us but have done nothing for us. We do not feel safe at work and in the hostels.” Violence continues unabated in Marikana. In the past few days alone, two people were killed in what many call continuing union rivalry. One was said to have left one union to join the other.
Amcu says its leadership is under siege and is experiencing wide-ranging attacks in the platinum belt, while NUM blames Amcu for gunning down its member after the Marikana massacre commemoration. Amnesty International met some of the victims and their families at the Nkaneng informal settlement, near Lonmin’s Roland shaft, where they still live in inadequate housing and squalid conditions.
In a report, Smoke and Mirrors: Lonmin’s failure to address housing conditions at Marikana, the human rights body revealed how the company that owns the mine, UK-based Lonmin, had committed to constructing 5500 houses for workers by 2011 under its 2006 Social and Labour Plan. The appalling housing conditions faced by Lonmin staff, along with grievances over low pay, were among the main drivers of the strike.
Five years later, people still face the same squalid conditions together, even though the union rivalry still divides their shared pain. But each side continues to view the other with suspicion. There are claims that Amcu paid widows of the 34 mineworkers R12500 for Christmas while the others were left to fend for themselves.
The husbands of the majority of the widows who were killed prior to August 16 were members of the NUM, which was a majority union at the time with a membership of 90000. Amcu was not immediately available for comment. But one of the widow blames Amcu for dividing them and segregating the 34 widows from the 10 but commends Lonmin for embracing the widows equally.
“We all lost our loved ones. We as widows we were not there. We do not know what happened. Why are they segregating us? We are tired of divisions,” a widow who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
“Amcu has divided us as widows. Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa was supposed to take us all under his wing as widows, but he has singled us out,” she said. The NUM’s head of safety Eric Gcilitshana says the union membership at Lonmin has declined to about 30000 members, losing membership to Amcu in 2012 which is now the majority union and has exclusive recognition rights.
Gcilitshana says it has not been easy for the NUM after being dislodged. “There are internal discussions on what we can do for widows. We have been dislodged and it is not easy to gain lost ground. “The tension is not only amid widows but our members have moved out of hostels due to intimidation.”
Last week, Amcu led thousands of people including political parties in the annual commemoration of the Marikana massacre at the koppie, however, the 10 widows did not attend as they do not feel welcome at Amcu events. They chose instead to attend a service by Lonmin.
“When Lonmin organises commemoration events, Mathunjwa takes his 34 widows away to Pretoria,” the widow says. “Lonmin calls all stakeholders to be united but tensions continue.”
- BUSINESS REPORT