South Africa

Mining violence: Harmony Gold closes branch after five injured

By Mandy De Waal 21 December 2012

Violent clashes continue in the mining sector, this time in Carletonville, where workers were allegedly shot at with live rounds and rubber bullets at Harmony Gold's Kusasalethu mine. With layoffs, union rivalry and mine bosses reneging on pay promises, 2013 looks set to be a torrid year for SA’s mining sector. By MANDY DE WAAL.

Five miners were injured at Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu mine in Carletonville on the morning of Thursday, when workers faced off against security guards from Protea Coin. Thenda Kolweni, a worker at Harmony, said that two miners were shot with live rounds, two were injured by rubber bullets, and one worker was overcome by tear gas.

The conflict broke out, Kolweni said, when miners were making their way to the gold mine to prepare for a disciplinary hearing. “It was round about 10h20 when the workers were going to the AMCU (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) offices and the security did not open the gates for them, and these employees where denied access to the union office. When these workers started to ask questions, tear gas was thrown at them and five employees were injured. Two people were shot with live ammunition and the others got wounds because of the rubber bullets. One man was suffocating from the tear gas,” Kolweni said. All the injured were taken to the Sir Albert Hospital in Randfontein.

This violent clash between workers and mining security had its genesis in a sit-in five days ago. Some 1,500 workers occupied Kusasalethu Mine on Saturday 15 December, demanding better wages. A spokesperson for Harmony said that the strike was staged so AMCU could jockey for position at the mine. “This is part of AMCU trying to secure its position for support at the shaft,” Harmony’s Marian van der Walt told EWN earlier. 

Harmony subsequently suspended 578 miners for participating in the strike, which the mine declared was illegal. After today’s clashes, mine management has decided to close the shaft for the festive season. “We have made it clear that no violence will be tolerated, and to ensure the safety of our employees, it has become imperative to close the shaft until the labour issues have been resolved,” Tom Smith, Harmony’s Chief Operating Officer, told The Wall Street Journal.

“The management suspended workers after the sit-in, but not everyone was suspended. The workers are very angry and upset because there are still others sitting in front of the hostel, but AMCU came to speak to everyone to calm things down,” Kolweni told Daily Maverick. “The mine is closing, but hopefully the mine owners will talk with AMCU and things will get sorted out.”

2013 looks set to be a challenging year for government, mine owners and workers in the sector, because when the sector gets back to work in January, the first thing on the agenda is the shedding of jobs. “In terms of the retrenchments next year, first quarter… I don’t know the numbers, but I can tell you it’s probably in the thousands, possibly going above ten (thousand) and maybe higher,” Chamber of Mines CEO Bheki Sibiya said during an address at the Cape Town Press Club little under a month ago.

“Some people above ground are going to be retrenched and some people below ground are going to be retrenched because the industry is now literally between the rock and the hard place.” Other issues threatening the sector include the jostling for position between rival unions AMCU and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the largest recognised collective bargaining agent to represent workers in the mining, energy and construction industries. 

In recent years, NUM has lost part of its support base to AMCU, which was founded after disgruntled workers broke away from the ANC/Cosatu-aligned union. NUM has even fallen below the required 50% representation as was the case at Impala Platinum, which ceased to recognise the union because of its dwindling support.

At Harmony’s Kusasalethu, two people were killed and another was injured in running battles between the two unions in November. Mineworker Sithembile Nqulo told Mail & Guardian that people were walking to a mass meeting when NUM shop stewards opened fire on the crowd. “The NUM wants to lead us by force,” Nqulo told the investigative weekly, and added that he thought NUM was threatened by the AMCU’s presence.

Meanwhile the BenchMarks Foundation took issue with Lonmin on Thursday 13 December 2012, following reports that mine bosses had reneged on pay promises to Marikana miners. In a letter from John Capel, executive director of the Bench Marks Foundation, to mine management, Capel stated his concern “at recent reports from workers and community members in Marikana alleging that the agreed pay rise of 22% was only paid for the first month after the strike, and was then discontinued.”

The NGO that monitors corporate performance said there had also been allegations that a “return-to-work bonus” of R2,000 that was received by workers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine was now being deducted from miners’ salaries, as if it were a loan. 

About 50 people were killed in violent clashes at mines in 2012, including the 34 people who lost their lives during the Marikana Massacre, when police opened fire at strikers at Lonmin’s mine in what is now seen as one of the greatest tragedies in SA’s young democracy.

Newly elected ANC leader, Jacob Zuma, and his deputy, mining mogul Cyril Ramaphosa, will have their work cut out for them next year. Mangaung has been all about debate and policy, but 2013 will take them back to the coal face of trying to stabilise and grow SA’s resource-based economy. DM

Read more:

  • Five injured in clash at Harmony mine in Carletonville on BDLive 
  • S Africa mine nationalisation ruled out at the Financial Times 
  • Global Miners Face Rising Risks in South Africa on CNBC 
  • Bench Marks Foundation Is Concerned At Recent Reports From Workers At Marikana at AllAfrica 

Photo: A Harmony Gold miner appears on the surface after being trapped underground for more than 10 hours at a mine in Carltonville, west of Johannesburg, October 4, 2007. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


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