Thursday brought the beginning of testimony by the National Union of Mineworkers at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. The union’s health and safety national secretary Erick Gcilitshana started, and spoke about the relationship that his organisation had with Lonmin, the employer. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
After the Marikana Commission of Inquiry completed its nine-day cross-examination of Brigadier Zephaniah Mkhwanazi, it was the turn of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to step into the breach. The first witness was Erick Gcilitshana, who is the health and safety national secretary, the union’s chief negotiator during the standoff in August 2012 and also an employee of Lonmin Plc.
The union is one of two (the other being the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) under scrutiny at the commission after President Jacob Zuma announced that the 16 August 2012 massacre at Marikana that left 34 miners dead would be thoroughly investigated.
Under the lead of advocate Karel Tip, Gcilitshana described the relationship between the different parties in the build-up to the massacre that left 34 people dead and 78 injured. He was asked to tell how the 2011 wage negotiation went. In a word, it wasn’t easy. The union managed to negotiate an 8% wage increment as well as a once-off bonus of R850, all backdated to October 2012. NUM’s original demand was 12% and the parties went to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) after being unable to find a resolution – Lonmin was offering 7% while NUM would not budge from 11%.
What made the situation worse in Marikana were the wage negotiations happening at another Impala Platinum (Implats). Certain categories of rock-drill operators were given a major pay-hike (from R4,000 to R9,000 a month for some) which caused upset amongst Lonmin’s drill operators. Despite the existence of a wage agreement, they embarked on a strike to demand R12,500 from the company. The massacre was the tragic result of the rapid acceleration of that unprotected strike.
Gcilitshana said that the Implats negotiation had an impact on Marikana because the company negotiated in bad faith. “Impala had signed a two-year wage deal of 10% increase, then two months later suddenly gave select miners 18%. This may have caused Lonmin employees to believe that something similar was happening at their company when they demanded R12,500 and were told they wouldn’t get it because there was no money.”
Importantly, Gcilitshana conceded that had the process gone outside of normal bargaining rules in the first place, lives could have been saved. When asked this by evidence leader Geoff Budlender, he replied, “I think so. I can’t be confident in saying that.”
At the centre of the controversy was a turf war between AMCU and NUM over representation at Lonmin. The company and the former union had an agreement that as the majority union, it would negotiate for, and collect fees from, the workers. However, the latter union was also slowly gaining ground and looked poised for a while to finally overtake its rival.
Before the 16 August massacre, the striking miners attempted to march upon the local NUM offices to have them closed. Two Lonmin security guards tried to stop the crowd, and a fight broke out which left the two dead and some miners apparently injured. Afterwards, the miners said that the union had tried to kill some of them. On more than one occasion we heard the miners apportioning as much blame to NUM as they did to Lonmin or the police. Needless to say, the relationship between the big union and the striking workforce at Lonmin soured incredibly after the shootings.
In his opening statement, Tip said that the NUM would argue – using the death of its local secretary Daluvuyo Bongo as one example – that the striking miners had completely disregarded the law or the lives of others during the crisis. Since the beginning, it has painted its self as floundering in the face of extremism from the work force on one hand, and an immovable and obdurate employer on the other.
According to reports, Zuma blamed the crisis on Lonmin.
“Reported by wire services to have been speaking at a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Zuma was quoted as saying that the violence at Lonmin’s Marikana mine last August was caused by the company undermining the collective wage bargaining system,” Reuters said.
The commission has been the site of an annoying game of passing the buck, as the police have blamed NUM and Lonmin for not going outside of bargaining processes to find a solution, and NUM and the company both saying that the police refused to allow them to negotiate directly with the workers in the final days. NUM president Senzeni Zokwana and AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa were both advised that negotiations were over just minutes before the operation began, and Lonmin claim that they were stopped that morning from meeting with any of the workers as the operation was going to move into a tactical phase.
The commission continues with Gcilitshana still on the witness stand.
Meanwhile, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa has resigned from the board of several companies, including Lonmin Plc, seemingly paving the way for his entrance into government. DM
Photo: Lonmin billboard, outside mine hospital, Marikana. August 21, 2012. Photo Greg Marinovich