Evans Ramokga is young, well-spoken, energetic and charismatic. He is leading what he calls a “mining revolution” at Amplats near Rustenburg. The workers there are protecting him, the police are looking for him, and he wants to set up a new trade union. South Africa would do well to remember his name. By MANDY DE WAAL.
“That miner is causing trouble,” said police Capt. Dennis Adriao about Ramokga.
That was in response to Ramokga’s claims that an armoured police vehicle ran over and killed a miner outside of Sondela informal settlement last week. Adriao says police aren’t aware of any deaths as a result of police action. The SAPS spokesman said he’d also personally phoned the local hospitals and morgues, but no death was reported.
Asked why he was unable to produce a name or what happened to the body, Ramokga said he had investigated the incident and alleged that the police had done away with the corpse.
But Adriao’s assessment still fits — though the trouble Ramokga is causing could have far wider implications.
Ramokga has even bigger plans. After helping to lead a wildcat strike that sent attendance levels plummeting to 20 percent, the young winch operator at Anglo American Platinum’s Khuseleka Mine says he wants to create a new union.
“Right now we have been planning to build a new organisation; we have lost trust in the existing trade unions,” he said. “Even (Amcu, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) is a problem because we don’t know where it originates and what its intent is. We want to start on a neutral point, and fresh start.”
Amplats has threatened striking workers with legal action if they didn’t return to work. Ramokga was brought to Johannesburg by civic organisations working to support workers affected by the ongoing mining crisis.
Ramokga is earnest, impassioned and rather eloquent.
“The madoda, they don’t want me to go out where the police are. They are protecting me,” he said. He says that the police have been phoning him and want to come in for questioning.
Ramokga says he never really wanted to be a miner.
“My sister paid for me to study mining at college after matric, and then I had to find a job,” he said. “We had no money or finances so I decided to go work for the mines hoping that they would develop me as time went on.”
Ramokga is indeed getting ‘developed’ by the mines, but his growth is possibly not what Amplats management had in mind. He has been quoted by local and international media as saying that strikers would bring mining in Rustenburg to its knees.
“Since March, we have been presenting a memorandum of demands to the union which is NUM, but they never came with feedback to say that the management can afford this or not,” he said. “They don’t come back to us. On May 31 we went to the region and asked them if they can come and help us, because we told them the branch that controls us doesn’t have any contact with us. Even the region didn’t come back to us. So we as the mineworkers elected five people to take this memorandum to the mine management.”
He says miners want new pay structures along with an increase.
“The thing with Anglo is that there are about 30 to 40 per cent of workers that are getting a higher salary than others. Our strike is not like the Marikana strike – we are not fighting for what’s not there. We are fighting for what’s there.”
He says the powerful NUM has been no help — even though workers are still paying for membership.
“They don’t want anything to do with us. The workers are angry and say that even if the strike is over they don’t want to be represented by NUM anymore,” he said. “Now we know the motive. NUM has shares in mining companies. That is why they know each and every demand. Now we know, although we didn’t know that at first. We always supported NUM. In our minds we thought that management disrespected our organisations, but now we know differently.”
In August City Press reported that the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was “doing good business” in the mining sector.
“The NUM’s property company, Numprop, is linked through housing projects to at least two mining houses, Xstrata and Harmony Gold. This is despite the fact that the union explicitly states it does not invest in the sectors in which it organises to prevent conflicts of interest,” the report read.
A fresh beginning, Ramokga, added would enable the workers to become more knowledgeable about politics and organising.
But will Ramokga and his co-workers be allowed by NUM, management and politicians with vested interests to create a new trade union? If the sentiment at the recent COSATU congress is anything to go by, the odds are heavily stacked against them. DM
Photo: Photo of Evans Ramokga (who asked for his face not to be shown) By Mandy de Waal
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