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20 October 2014 13:08 (South Africa)
South Africa

Mining crisis, Marikana: Marching on when you don’t have a prayer

  • Thapelo Lekgowa
  • South Africa
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Religious and community leaders from Marikana took to the streets with a spiritual message for the negotiators from Lonmin. Hoping to break the deadlock, they tackled the mining strike with faith and prayer. Whether that’s enough for the miners – who are growing desperate after nine weeks – is another matter. By THAPELO LEKGOWA.

After nine weeks of striking, it was only prayer that was going to get these marchers to the gates of Lonmin. Well, prayer and some heavy negotiation.

After substantial back-and-forth with security, religious leaders in Marikana – and a strong contingent of the community’s women – were finally allowed to march to Lonmin management’s offices. In scorching heat they undertook the six-kilometre walk, singing spiritual songs.

“God, it is all in your hands…” rang out over the streets.

Every step is followed by prayer for a positive outcome, said one of the marchers. “We hope they will hear what we bring them. We have serious trouble coming our way.”

Talking to the marchers, it becomes clear that those with a strong political interest in the “trouble coming” are in the minority; most are genuinely more interested in the spiritual side – hoping for a peaceful outcome between AMCU and the mine negotiators. They are hoping to soften them a little with a spiritual message, they say.

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“You only face deadlocks because the parties engaging in talks are not going in confidence that God can lead and guide them,” one marcher, who remained unnamed, said. “You will achieve anything if you do it with a heart that is open. If your heart is not open you are as good as Satan himself.”

Nothing that has God in it can fail, another woman added. “Do you even think these people believe in God, or are they are just wealthy, happy men?”

Not all participants in the march were spiritual leaders, however: some were also mine workers, dressed in blue, white and purple gowns. These chose to participate in the religious march while their peers remained at the Wonderkop stadium, discussing the progress of the strike in the hopes of hearing that it could come to an end soon, or that negotiations would be resuming.

The length of the strike, meanwhile, means that finances are reaching crisis proportions. The households of mineworkers are running on empty. Paraffin is at an all-time low – not to speak of maize meal, cabbage or other essentials. Desperation is forcing the community to think of other ways of engaging the negotiators, say marchers.

The message carried by the marchers, written in Xhosa, was read out to the company representatives by Bishop S.B. Noludwe, who says the community believes great hardship lies ahead if the negotiators do not come to an agreement soon. “We come to you to share a prophecy we had. We see big trouble coming our way, trouble that is more deadly than that of August 2012. The prophecy shows a lot of people being killed in the platinum belt. We therefore saw it fit to bring you the message so that you intervene if you have the means. We present ourselves humbled to you; thank you.”

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The prediction of violence may ring true, as there are high levels of mistrust now developing within the members of AMCU, who are bearing the brunt of the strike. Reports have circulated of workers rebelling and organising private meetings in defiance of AMCU; as well as some workers calling on their chiefs in other areas of the country to negotiate with the union and their employers to allow them to work while negotiations continue.

Some workers, however, are sticking to their original demand of R12,500 or nothing. They are willing to fight. no matter what happens. “We are going to lose jobs at this rate if people don’t get back to work or at least return to the negotiating table, but let’s all negotiate within the realm of this 9%,” Lonmin Corporate Communications Manager Lerato Molebatsi told journalists. The 9% has been rejected by Lonmin workers since it was presented to them for the first time, and at this stage it appears they will not be budging from their original demand.

“What they have asked to settle at is R12,500, which is completely unsustainable, even over a four-year period; we will not settle at that amount,” Molebatsi added.

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Workers are not satisfied with the current deadlock. They gather daily in anticipation of a positive response.

Life is becoming difficult for individual workers at different levels, however; at the same time, the union wants to prove itself as a radical body. If the strike is to come to an end without the workers losing their jobs, there will be some who will think twice about their affiliation to unions. But they will most likely keep on holding on as hard as they can. DM

All photos by Thapelo Lekgowa.

  • Thapelo Lekgowa
  • South Africa


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