Cosatu and the police chose force over common sense as they powered their way past strikers into the Olympia stadium in Rustenburg on Saturday. Not that violent Amplats miners made the situation any easier. It was, in a word, chaotic. By GREG MARINOVICH.
Olympia Stadium, Rustenburg, 27 October 2012.
Minister of Education and SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande linked arms with Cosatu and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) leaders Frans Baleni, Sidumo Dlamini and Zwelinzima Vavi to lead some 1,000 unionists to a Rustenburg stadium to begin the “Reclaim Lonmin” campaign.
The Cosatu heavyweights were hours late for the meeting; over 1,000 striking Amplats miners arrived early and took over the venue. The miners – many of them current or former NUM members – were furious with Cosatu and NUM. Earlier, workers assaulted Cosatu members, tearing off the red union T-shirts and then burning them. They marched into the stadium, causing NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka to flee to safety. After desecrating ANC and Cosatu hats, scarves and other paraphernalia, they moved back out. Police padlocked the gate immediately.
Photo: Striking Anglo Platinum miners tried to take over from Cosatu at Olympia stadium Rustenburg. 27 October 2012, Rustenburg, North West. (Greg Marinovich).
Outside, Daily Maverick saw three Cosatu loyalists assaulted. One of them, Billy Zulu, a Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU) official, was badly beaten and may have suffered a worse fate had journalists not intervened (see main photo). The strikers wore black T-shirts, proclaiming “Remember the Slain of Marikana” and “Forward to a Living Wage R12,500”.
Photo: A Cosatu member runs from striking Anglo Platinum miners, 27 October 2012, Rustenburg, North West. (Greg Marinovich)
As Cosatu members arrived by bus and taxi, the Amplats strikers sang and danced outside the stadium gates. Cosatu however was not to be dissuaded from having their rally – Frans Baleni, NUM secretary general responded that he knew about the miners' negative sentiment and would hold the rally regardless.
It was clear that such a choice would lead to violence.
Police have banned most marches by Marikana miners and even women’s marches as a threat to public safety. Yet, despite it being clear that large-scale clashes would erupt if Cosatu insisted on holding the rally at the stadium, police opted to heed Cosatu’s desires and moved in to clear the miners.
As the union loyalists approached the stadium, a member of the Marikana solidarity campaign, Rehad Desai was walking near the Cosatu leadership when Cosatu members turned on him. In full view of the South African cabinet minister Nzimande, Cosatu's Vavi and NUM's Baleni, Desai was beaten and stripped to his underwear. Eventually, the commander of the public order policing unit rescued him, bundling him to safety in an armoured police vehicle.
Photo: Police chase away the striking Anglo Platinum miners after firing rubber bullets on them at Olympia stadium Rustenburg. 27 October 2012, Rustenburg, North West. (Greg Marinovich)
It was from this vehicle that Desai watched what happened next. Police had corralled the strikers 100-metres away from the stadium gate. As Cosatu members streamed in, Desai claims several Cosatu members with sticks peeled off and attacked the miners. The miners responded and chased the unionists back. It was then that police opened fire with stun grenades and rubber bullets.
Pandemonium reigned as police chased fleeing miners across fields and into suburban streets and homes. When compared to police action on August 16 in Marikana, police showed some degree of restraint and never resorted to live ammunition. Residents of the suburb adjacent to the stadium gathered at their fences and later on street corners to watch in horror as the shooting continued for over an hour.
Photo: SACP's Blade Nzimande leads Cosatu members prior to clashes with striking Anglo Platinum miners. 27 October 2012, Rustenburg, North West. (Greg Marinovich)
From his side, Nzimande 'thanked Cosatu members for their discipline and said that when a group of striking Anglo Platinum workers who opposed the trade federation charged at marching members, Cosatu remained disciplined.' Sapa reported.
In the week before the rally, the Anglo Platinum miners had been offered an increase and a R2,000 return-to-work bonus, plus a R2,500 loan from the company. Miners say they are rejecting this offer and demand a R16,000 salary instead. They have been given until Tuesday to return to work or face dismissal.
Their beef with NUM and Cosatu is that they believe NUM has sold out to management with regard to the workers’ real demands. Their anger was spelled out by a miner who yelled at Cosatu members, “We are dying underground while you sit on on chairs above and earn money!”
They carried placards saying, “We are here to bury NUM,” and “Rest in Peace NUM.”
The official Cosatu street poster said the rally was Unity and Solidarity Action in Defence of the Living Wage and for Decent Work,” yet it was the t-shirts members and leaders wore that told the real story, “Reclaim Lonmin” read a NUM shirt, and “Hands off NUM Hands off COSATU” read Nzimande’s and Baleni’s shirts.
What happened at Olympia stadium is the start of open competition and conflict between organised labour with links to the ruling party (with the support of the organs of state), and an increasingly disempowered and frustrated workforce, who were once the vanguard of the Alliance.
The ANC-linked union federation is determined to keep their mineworker union in power at the mines, knowing well that without it, they will shrivel and die. The war has now well and truly started and, should the solution not be soon found, there will much more blood and tears spilt. DM
Main photo: Cosatu official Billy Zulu is beaten by Amplats strikers at Olympia stadium Rustenburg. 27 October 2012, Rustenburg, North West. Photo Greg Marinovich