The Young Communists League of South Africa gathered their ranks at the University of Johannesburg on Thursday night to discuss issues relating to the transformation of the mining sector in light of the current crisis. As a gabfest, the opportunities for the Young Communists, the National Union of Mineworkers and Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu to speak against Malema were plenty. Actual talk about transformation – not so much. By KHADIJA PATEL.
The last time a National Union of Mineworkers delegate spoke at the University of Johannesburg’s Bunting Road campus, he was severely heckled and forced to leave. This week, however, as part of the Young Communists League’s Bua Thursday event series, NUM Chief Negotiator Eddie Majadibodu spoke to a more agreeable audience.
He outlined five core issues that he said currently guided NUM’s work as a trade union. Firstly, he said, NUM had prioritised a living wage and, very importantly, closing the gap between executive and worker pay. “We can’t talk about SA being most unequal society in the world without breaking it down to living wage and the wage gap. As long as you have 20% of South Africans sharing among themselves 80% of the country’s wealth and 80% of the population sharing only 20%, then we are not going anywhere. The issue of living wage and closing the wage gap in mining is key.” He added that 90% of development in South Africa was attributed to the mining industry.
Next up, he said NUM was dedicated to the creation of an environment that promoted stability in the mining sector. “If you don’t do that, you are going to have problems,” he said. (At least one audience member later pointed out that this fixation with stability appeared amiss for an organisation which ought to be dedicated to improving the lot of mineworkers, no matter the cost.)
The maintenance of stability, Majadibodu explained, was related to how well relationships in the workplace were managed. Taking aim at renegade union AMCU, he accused its leaders of encouraging illegal industrial action, intimidation and violence to bolster its ambitions for growth.
Majadibodu added that AMCU had left discussions with NUM brokered by government on Wednesday. “When we met yesterday, they pulled out, accusing us of issuing statements calling AMCU assassins,” he said.
“They don’t have the capacity, both human and thinking, to engage at that level. Their only excuse, then, is to leave discussions.”
Chief among the socioeconomic problems that NUM had identified among mining communities was attitudes towards migrant labour. He pointed out that in Limpopo, an entire campaign had been launched to deter migrant labour in the mines, but NUM was determined to ensure “sustainability of the sector in the context of the current instability.” He said NUM was concerned about the threat of foreign capital retreating as the chaos continued.
“We are engaging a number of people considering pulling out of mining in South Africa,” he said.
But before anybody can accuse NUM of being too cosy with foreign capital and mine management, such allegations, Majadibodu said, were “unfounded and malicious”. According to him, NUM’s protracted engagement with mine management could be attributed to a ten-phase plan, and the fact that NUM was currently at the articulation phase. “We are engaging with complex, serious issues,” he said.
“People can call us names, but we know who we are as a union, and at that level we understand issues better [than AMCU],” Majadibodu said.
Susan Shabangu, for her part, offered a deep lesson into the history of legislation regarding the mining sector in South Africa. She, too, was not averse to thinly veiled barbs against Julius Malema’s nationalisation campaign, and added that nationalisation would actually never be profitable to South Africans – rather, that proponents of the cause sought self-enrichment to the detriment of everyone else.
Offering good news, Shabangu said the state mining company had turned a healthy profit this year and would need no favours from the treasury. The bad news, however, was ominous: that the significance of mining to the South African economy and the impact of the strikes would be felt in budgetary constraints next year. She predicted cuts in government spending on health and education to make up for losses suffered through the mining strikes. "This action [the strikes] will cause a big bang... a negative bang," she said.
It was left to YCLSA national secretary Buti Manamela to remind both Shabangu and NUM that they ought to be more concerned about the "people" than the investors. His plea, however, may have fallen on deaf ears. He indicated that the tripartite alliance had been advised by NUM not to venture near Marikana. “The situation is too volatile,” he said. DM
- Reporter's Notebook: NUM drowned out at UJ meeting on Marikana in Daily Maverick
Photo: Mineworkers work deep underground at Harmony Gold Mine's Cooke shaft near Johannesburg, September 22, 2005. (REUTERS)