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Platinum belt strike-hit communities turn on ANC

Tension over the three-month strike in the platinum belt boiled over on Sunday with outraged community members violently protesting over the lack of help from government in Freedom Park, outside Rustenburg. Today, the miners and the community of Marikana will come face-to-face with the president. By GREG NICOLSON.

Madiba Bukhali, an Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) member from Amplats, said four buildings were burnt down in Freedom Park on Sunday and protestors also looted several foreign-owned shops after Sports and Recreation Minister, Fikile Mbalula, was campaigning in the area for the ANC along with Cosatu-affiliated unions.

While local police weren’t available to comment on Monday, police spokesperson, Thulani Ngubane, confirmed to Reuters on Sunday that Mbalula was removed from the area when protestors became a threat. After he left, the protest intensified and police used stun grenades and a water canon. A National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) member told Reuters he saw about 100 people in AMCU t-shirts confronting the tripartite alliance group.

Locals, however, told Daily Maverick the violence wasn’t directly related to the union. It was a community-led protest over the depression-like conditions that have hit the area, populated by miners who service the nearby platinum industry.

Mbalula denied reports he fled Freedom Park in a bulletproof as stones were thrown at him. On Twitter he called the media reports “gutter journalism” and claimed his door-to-door campaign was a success. But multiple tweets from Mbalula emphasised the area’s hostility towards the ANC. Members are intimidated, he claimed. The SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satuwu), which was campaigning with the ANC in the area, said people were throwing stones at its election truck, buses carrying shop stewards and other vehicles belonging to members.

Bukhali said the area was fed up with the ANC. “The community say when they voted for the ANC in the 1994 elections they did so because they thought the ANC would be able to solve their problems and help them whenever in need.” Government’s failure to help AMCU and the platinum producers reach a wage agreement is seen as just another example of their failure to deliver. Distancing the mineworkers from the violence, Bukhali said AMCU members met on Monday to discuss how they would protect their property if the protest continued.

Another resident, known only as Albert, said, “From what I saw and heard, the community is very angry at the ANC-led government for what is generally being viewed as neglect. [The ANC] are here because it’s election time and they need to find ways to get to our money. They care less about resolving the three month long platinum strikes. This is why Fikile Mbalula was chased away earlier on in the day.”

Albert continued: “What kind of people will lie and lie and still have the audacity to lie again in our faces? They think we are idiots or what? They can go and tell their lies elsewhere and not here. They may control where they take our money but they will not control our individual lives. We are tired of the ANC’s way of doing things – corruption.”

North West Premier Thandi Modise condemned the attacks. “Workers who are involved in the protracted strike should not be misled into taking out their frustration on political parties that wish to campaign in the area as they are not part to the labour dispute involving AMCU and mining houses,” said Modise.

Thabo Mashomo, SACP district secretary in the Moses Kotane region, said two Rustenbug councillors are homeless after their residences were burnt down. “Since ward 24 [Freedom Park] is surrounded by settlements occupied by employees of the nearby mines, their anger and frustrations due to their long unresolved industrial actions led by a counter-revolutionary union is also acknowledged and might have direct impact on what has transpired,” said Mashomo. “It is a fact that Rustenburg area has been turned into an unofficial political battlefield during this epoch and we will not allow any area [to be] a no-go area,” he continued

AMCU’s industrial action at Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) and Impala Platinum (Implats) has been going for over three months, harming businesses around Rustenburg, leaving many miners’ families hungry, cutting remittances to rural homelands, and leading to children being pulled out of school as parents can’t pay school fees.

The platinum belt has been known for violence since a turf war between AMCU and NUM sparked in 2012. With the added fuel of election promises and workers going without an income, the area looks prone to violence. Last week, a shack used for ANC electioneering was burnt down in Nkaneng, Marikana.

The strike is far from over. In a process facilitated by the minister of labour, negotiations broke down last week during two days of discussions. Many stakeholders hoped the latest offer from the platinum producers might end the costly strike. The platinum companies increased their offer for entry-level underground workers so they would receive R12,500 monthly cash remuneration by July 2017, backdated to last July at Amplats and Implats and October at Lonmin. The figure includes basic pay plus allowances for living out, holiday leave and a contribution to a 13th cheque. “This revised offer is one of the highest increases anywhere in the sector and the country,” said the companies in a joint statement last week.

AMCU was livid after the negotiations. The union wants R12,500 in four years instead of five, before allowances are added. It accused Amplats of negotiating in bad faith, apparently exaggerating the costs of the union’s demands by up to R500 million by including costs for around 4,800 workers retrenched in 2013.

“Their unaffordability argument collapsed when they were forced to acknowledge their false claim. Even the government officials observing the negotiations were left bewildered by their methods,” said the union in a statement.

Amplats’s mistake will add to the negative sentiment from miners who believe the companies can afford the increases but are too greedy. “We were extremely livid at these underhand methods. It is difficult to predict how our members will react and what mandate they will give us faced with this situation,” continued AMCU. “We are left with the strong impression that there is a hidden agenda at play. This too will be discussed with our members and we will work out a joint strategy to break their intransigence and arrogance.” The union says it will inform members of the situation in mass meetings and organise “solidarity action” around the world against the companies.

Amplats, Implats and Lonmin want to bypass the union and take their offer straight to employees. Speaking for the companies, Charmane Russell said a negotiated settlement is the first preference, one reason being that it’s less likely to spark violence. “At the same time, the producers feel that it is important that as many employees as possible know about the offer, and what it entails so that they can make informed decisions. This is made more difficult by the fact that many employees are not at or around operations. We are not aware of efforts by AMCU to reach these members. The employers are certainly reaching out as broadly as possible, including into traditional labour sending areas.”

Russell said the mineworkers are keen to end the strike. “The feedback that employers have received and are receiving from employees directly is that they want to go back to work.  Should employees wish to accept the offer directly, mechanisms for this individual acceptance are being put in place. But this is a process.”

In a letter to all employees last Friday, Implats said no agreement has been reached and outlined their offer in detail. It said AMCU’s demand is unaffordable and urged employees to give the union a mandate to accept the offer. Lonmin sent its workers a similar letter, finishing, “This revised offer is one of the highest increases anywhere in the country. Lonmin cannot pay more. We urge AMCU to accept this offer in the best interests of our valued employees and your families. We ask employees to give AMCU a mandate to accept Lonmin’s offer.

AMCU has said it will consult its members on the latest offer until Wednesday. It’s clear, however, that the strike hasn’t been good for the ANC. It adds fuel to arguments that the party is struggling to maintain a stable economy and while government leaders are careful of getting involved on either side, the latest violence shows some workers and communities, beyond Marikana where many blame the ANC for the 2012 massacre, are starting to think the party has forgotten them.

President Jacob Zuma will do a door-to-door in Wonderkop, Marikana, today as AMCU is set to meet nearby to discuss the latest wage offer. Since Mbalula was reportedly chased out of Freedom Park, alliance structures have repeatedly stated there there should be no “no go” areas for political parties. Zuma’s visit will put the principle to the test. DM

With additional reporting by Bheki C. Simelane and Thapelo Lekgowa.


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