The protracted strike by members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) which has already claimed nine lives at Sibanye-Stillwater operations in Carletonville is proving to be a headache for Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe, who has now called in the help of Cabinet colleagues in the labour and police portfolios.
A member of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which has not endorsed the strike, was ambushed in a hijacking last week when four men set up barricades on the road from Blybank, one of three Sibanye-Stillwater operations in the area.
Mbhekeni Jali shot and killed one of the hijackers and was subsequently killed himself when a group of men descended on the scene.
He was buried in Port St John’s on Saturday.
On Thursday Mantashe’s spokesperson, Ayanda Shezi, said he “is in Carletonville with an inter-ministerial committee of ministers including the ministers of police and labour, who are dealing with this matter”.
Shezi said: “The main priority for the ministers is to bring back a sense of normality to the area. Ordinarily, a strike is supposed to be settled between the labour unions and the management through a process of collective bargaining. It is concerning that this strike has been protracted and led to incidents of violence and death and the minister would like to see the strike resolved as soon as possible.”
Shezi added that Mantashe had requested Minister of Police Bheki Cele to intervene in Carletonville in the West Rand to restore order and safeguard the safety and security of the community.
“The strike at Sibanye-Stillwater, which began in November 2018, has become violent, impacting negatively on communities in the area, with nine deaths reported thus far and an estimated 62 houses burnt down,” Shezi said.
“The minister of police is expected to visit the area in the next few days.”
Mantashe had a meeting with the mine bosses on Friday. He met the unions separately on Thursday.
An Amcu representative who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was not aware of the meeting with the ministers as their leader, Joseph Mathunjwa, was at a different meeting at Birchwood, the conference centre in Ekurhuleni.
Mathunjwa’s opposite number at NUM, Joseph Montisetse, said his union had met with Mantashe.
“We had not called for any meeting with Amcu,” he said.
Montisetse said at the meeting with Mantashe he had implored the minister to agitate for a commission of inquiry into the killings at the mines.
“It is only a commission of inquiry that can dig deeper into the causes of the violence,” he said.
“These killings must be probed. We believe there is a third hand responsible for the killings. Whoever gives the orders for these killings must be arrested, then we’d have got to the bottom of the problem.”
Montisetse said only NUM members had been targeted in the killings.
He added that the only solution to the killings “will come from the people who are killing others”.
“They must just stop the killing,” said Montisetse. He said more police needed to be deployed to the area.
Contrary to Amcu’s claims that it is the majority union, NUM insists this honour belongs to it.
“We are the majority union in the gold sector and at Sibanye itself, even though we are not a 50-plus union,” said NUM general secretary David Sipunzi.
For Sipunzi, the solution to the violence that has accompanied the strike lies in Amcu “calling off their illegal strike and the stopping the killing of non-striking workers”.
Sipunzi said the killings would not legitimise Amcu’s strike.
Like NUM, James Wellsted of Sibanye-Stillwater said: “Amcu’s claims of us arming employees are ludicrous and contemptible.”
Montisetse said NUM did not need to be armed.
“We have no reason to intimidate anyone,” he said.
NUM members are at work because they accepted the employer’s offer of a R700 increase while Amcu is demanding R1 000 for the three years of 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Sipunzi said: “As per the mandate, we accepted the offer ranging from R700 to R825.”
Amcu turned this offer down and has been on strike since.
“The Ministry of Mineral Resources respects the right of workers to protest,” Shezi said.
“The right to strike must be exercised in a non-violent manner and the rights of non-striking workers must not be hindered.”
Late on Friday, NUM regional secretary in Carletonville Mbuyiseli Hibana confirmed that they were going into a meeting with Mantashe.
“He is meeting all the stakeholders under one roof,” Hibana said.