Down the dusty road to Wonderkop stadium, curls and curls of barbed wire line the entrance as if it were an animal enclosure. Nearby settlement Nkaneng is silent. Dogs walk about aimlessly with their tongues out under the hot sun. A short walk away, white crosses lie strewn on the koppie where police opened fire on mineworkers on 16 August 2012.
Inside the stadium, AMCU members sing what’s becoming their trademark tune, “Khuza Mathunjwa khuza uZuma.” They’re calling on union President Joseph Mathunjwa to reign in Zuma. The stadium’s stand is literally packed to the rafters. Thousands more Lonmin employees wait for their president on the grass.
The University of Johannesburg’s Professor Peter Alexander is one of the first to address the crowd. “Amaaaaaaaadla,” roars the white academic to laughter. Then he gets the crowd going. “It’s a strike for history in the South African platinum industry! It’s a historic strike!” he says, claiming AMCU’s three months of industrial action has caused more days of work lost than any other strike in the country’s history.
Mathunjwa, who arrived with two BMWs and burly bodyguards, takes the mic and speaks to his members. “You have been looking for a good union and good leaders and you have found it. AMCU’s membership certificate will never expire unless through you,” he tells the crowd.
“We here at Lonmin will not back down because we’ve also had blood spilt on the mountain for this same course. There should be no selling out. Let’s stand together, Lonmin comrades, like you did when you were shot by police. They will offer you transport to the Teba offices to sign secret agreements. Do not go.”
While Mathunjwa hasn’t starved from the strike, he says he’s undergoing severe mental strain. He warns sell-outs who may secretly want to kindle their relationship with the employer. “Before you do so, just think of those that died at the mountain.”
Photo: Workers at the AMCU gathering in Marikana raise their fists in front of Lonmin’s operations in the background, 29 April 2014. (Greg Nicolson)
The union president slams Lonmin CEO Ben Magara, who rose from the ranks of an average mineworker. “Magara thinks he knows the mind of the black person like the back of his hand. There is a huge difference between Magara and myself. I represent you while Magara represents the capitalists.”
There were two things we were there to see. The first was whether AMCU’s Lonmin members would accept the latest wage offer from the platinum producers.
Mathunjwa tries to break down the figures of the latest wage offer. Before workers vote, he says AMCU is being offered R150 a month less than what the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) got. Angry murmurs and exclamations rise in the crowd. When it comes to voting, the crowd chants yes to continuing the push for R12,500 basic wage for entry-level underground workers in four years. Workers wave their hands to signal no to accepting the offer of achieving R12,500 total cash remuneration in five years.
“Maybe they should just let us return to work. It’s during such times that half a loaf is better than no bread, we have suffered enough,” says one miner. “After all this time, there is no way I’m returning to work without the R12,500 exclusive of medical aid and provident fund,” says another. The strike continues with the ball back in the platinum producers’ court.
Photo: AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa walks past a crowd of thousands in Marikana, 29 April 2014 (Greg Nicolson)
The other reason we were in Marikana was to see the ANC. A bumpy and dusty road leads to the local party offices. The makeshift office can’t be told apart from residents’ shacks, except through its size. It’s twice as big as the one-room shacks in the area and features brand new corrugated iron.
“Residents burnt the offices on Thursday last week because they are dissatisfied with the ANC. We do not want to see them in the area,” say two men, killing their thirst with a drink in a nearby shop.
“We hear that President Zuma is coming here today. He wouldn’t dare, he wouldn’t dare,” says another resident.
Zuma was scheduled to visit Marikana’s Wonderkop, Ward 32 and 36, at 14:00. The ANC continually says there shouldn’t be any no-go areas in the country and sending the president to Marikana – the symbolic heartland of resistance to the party since the 2012 massacre – would have tested that belief.
Marikana is bored and angry. It’s hostile to the party many blame not only for the killings of the mineworkers and the support of the NUM at the expense of average workers, but also for failing to help end the current strike. Number five on the ANC’s national election list, Fikile Mbalula, was reportedly chased out of nearby Freedom Park on Sunday. Visiting Marikana is another challenge altogether and Zuma cancelled his trip.
“Due to the violence in that area, the provincial executive committee made a deliberate decision that the president will instead speak to people in Sonop,” said North West Provincial Chairpman Supra Mahumapelo hours before the president’s scheduled arrival. “We do not want to draw unnecessary attention,” he added. “We do not want to give anarchists a platform to advance their agenda.”
The platinum strike is more than just industrial action. On Tuesday, the names of killed 2012 Marikana strike leader Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki and organiser Steve Khululekile were mentioned like martyrs.
While Zuma spent most of his day in the offices of the Madibeng Municipality, workers in Marikana were venerating their heroes who opposed the powerful mining companies and their links to the ANC-affiliated leaders. They decided to continue their strike while the community was deprived of wages, depressed, and struggling to put food on the table. DM
Main photo: AMCU members march into Wonderkop Stadium, 29 April 2014. Photo Greg Nicolson
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