The peace accord signed Thursday by the stakeholders at Marikana is not worth the paper it is written on because its drafters failed to understand what the whole fight is about. The crisis has deepened far beyond Lonmin promising to negotiate and mediators acting as if it hasn’t. It will only deepen the miners’ sense of marginalisation. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
Mediation efforts between Lonmin PLC, unions and striking workers at Marikana produced a peace accord last Thursday. The agreement was made necessary by the extraordinary events of August and it would be binding unto all its signatories. In it, the parties agreed that nobody would violate anyone else’s rights, acknowledged the wildcat strike for wage increases to R12,500 a month and promised the employer would begin negotiating the wage demand with the various unions and stakeholders just as soon as the strike ended. All workers would also have to report to work on Monday, 10 September.
Lonmin, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity and the union UASA all signed the peace accord. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and representatives of the striking workers didn’t sign the document.
The two missing signatures made the accord, and the entire process, completely pointless. If the Department of Labour, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and the South African Council of Churches (which set up and arbitrated the meetings) had bothered to listen carefully to what the miners have been saying all along, it would have been clear that the miners wouldn’t sign the document at all. The terms of the peace accord simply did not address their concerns at all and has given them reason to spurn it altogether, which is precisely what they did.
One of the miners’ representatives, Zolisa Bodlwana, explained why they had not signed the accord: “We felt as if we were in a wrong meeting because they kept on insisting on signing the accord. We left because an accord does not help us in any way.”
Xolani Nzuza, another delegate from the miners, said, “We don’t want to hear anything about a peace accord. We want R12,500 and the closing down of (the Karee K3) shaft.”
The miners marched upon the shaft on Thursday to demand that all operations cease. This is the sort of action the accord does not acknowledge – that miners will not agree to anything that is decided on anyone else’s terms. It’s an impossible position to attempt to negotiate against if you’re NUM or Lonmin, but it was deliberately made so.
The death of 34 miners, the injury of 78 and the arrest of 270 hardened hearts in Marikana.
From the very beginning, the dispute was a question of power and control. When the workers first demanded R12,500 and realised that Amcu couldn’t get it for them and NUM seemed unwilling to even try, they didn’t simply give up. They went to their shacks and hostel dormitory rooms to retrieve their traditional weapons, a sign that they were not willing to be pushed on the issue.
The first weekend, where 10 people died (some at the hand of the police and NUM security, and three by the miners themselves) served to harden attitudes against NUM, the main union at Lonmin, and ensured that in the coming days there would be no way that its leaders would be listened to. The killings on 16 August pushed the issue even further. On more than one occasion, I have interviewed miners who said the R12,500 was now non-negotiable, partly because of the blood that had been spilled.
There is only one condition that the miners want to hear. Lonmin must give them their new wage level and then they will return to work.
A promise to negotiate and an attempt to impose new conditions on the workers came across as another attempt to take control from them and give it back to Lonmin.
Amcu’s reason for rejecting the document was that it was never party to the violence in the first place. But that’s not all – the union knows NUM is effectively finished in Lonmin, and if not, it is well on its way to that. At many of the mines where the two unions have battled it out, the newer Amcu has been able to expand rapidly by recruiting unrepresented workers. With so many choosing to forgo union membership altogether, NUM already had a big problem before Marikana happened. There is absolutely no reason for Amcu to cooperate with a deal that might strengthen NUM’s hand. It just has to keep disassociating itself with NUM and Lonmin and take the easy pickings of what’s left over when the dust finally settles.
Lonmin itself faces a very difficult decision. If the workers really don’t go back to work Monday, its financials will continue to suffer. This may reach a point where some production units are shut down completely and thousands of people lose their jobs. The thought of what might happen then is almost unthinkable in a climate where the mere sight of a police armoured truck provokes deep and well-founded anger. Granting the miners R12,500 they demand, however, would balloon the wage bill and very likely have a knock-on effect of similar wildcat strikes right across the Bushveld Igneous Complex.
Asking the miners not carry their traditional weapons during demonstrations could probably have worked if the request had been made after the arrested miners were released, and perhaps if some police had been arrested for the 16 August massacre, not to mention for the avalanche of complaints to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).
Lonmin could have promised to then arrange a separate negotiation process where an independent auditor would come in, have a look at the company books and give the miners an honest assessment of what wage they could actually get. It is important to note that none of the miners want to lose their jobs, and if it was impressed upon them that the R12,500 figure would mean that some of them would have to be fired to shrink the size of the workforce, it would in all likelihood finally force a meeting of minds.
What was presented to the miners instead was a promise to negotiate if they returned to work. The company previously issued “report for work, or else” demands in the days following 16 August, which were largely ignored. Why the workers would commit to a peace they feel has been violated already in exchange for an appointment with Lonmin is unclear, and it should not have surprised anyone why they instantly rejected the deal. The future of platinum mining in South Africa looks rather murky indeed. DM
Photo: Mbulelo, brother of Mgcineni Mambush Noki, one of 34 striking platinum mineworkers shot dead at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, looks at his coffin in Mqanduli, outside Mthata, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, September 8, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko