Is union rivalry rearing its ugly head on the platinum belt again after an agreement was reached to end the five-month wage strike? The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has alleged that since last week, a number of union members at Impala Platinum (Implats) have been assaulted and prevented from reporting to work.

Yesterday Cosatu blamed Implats for “bashing” the NUM at its Rustenburg operations.

Among other things, the labour federation accused Implats of locking the NUM leaders out of their offices on the mine. It also lashed out at mine management and security for turning a blind eye to intimidation against its members.

“The management of Implats continues to call all shop stewards to return to work, but when they return they are chased away and management does nothing to those who are chasing and attacking our worker leaders,” Solly Phetoe, Cosatu’s provincial secretary for the North West, said.

Implats believes otherwise, and has issued the NUM shop stewards with a final notice to return to work.

Some of the NUM’s leaders had refused to accept that they had lost their organisational rights “and privileges and continue to use security concerns as a reason for not returning to work, while still expecting to receive their monthly wages”, Implats spokeswoman Alice Lourens said.

The NUM was ousted as the majority union at Implats more than a year ago by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which represents 61 percent of employees. The NUM now represents 6 percent of Implats employees.

“We have also secured a firm undertaking from Amcu that they will welcome these workers but, in turn, they expect them to return and not provoke labour problems,” Lourens said.

It is clear that rivalry is still an issue, but serving as a shop steward comes with a number of perks that the NUM does not seem to want to give up.

Statistics SA

If anyone has actually ever juggled a hot potato (why on earth would they?), they would have nothing but sympathy for statistician-general Pali Lehohla dealing with, and, at the same time, not dealing with speculation that the economy continued to shrink through the second quarter, after falling back by 0.6 percent in the first quarter.

Everybody has their own observations and anecdotes to illustrate their opinion of what the economy is doing at any given point, but few contest that the economy is in a downward spiral.

The general definition of a recession is simple enough: two successive quarters of negative growth in gross domestic product (GDP).

Sapa politely says Lehohla “shied away from speculation” when asked if the second quarter looked as if it continued the trend of the first and kept on heading south: “A number of commentators are asking the question – after the negative growth in GDP [for the first quarter of 2014] of minus 0.6 percent – are we likely to see… a recession?

“Well, on August 26 we’ll be releasing another GDP figure, and then we’ll see,” he told reporters in Pretoria, adding that they should “watch this space”.

Asked to predict the second quarter, deputy director-general for economic statistics, Joe de Beer, said Statistics SA did not yet have all the data to do so.

“It’s very early days, and I think we would be reliant for the GDP calculations on estimates for the months of April, May and June.

“We don’t have all of those data points yet, but I think later this week, when we start looking at the trade statistics to be published, it will also give us a good feel for where this is going to end up,” he said.

Sounds ominous.

Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Dineo Faku and Peter DeIonno.