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Amcu again says that platinum wage deals will be signed

President of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union Joseph Mathunjwa addresses members in Rustenburg in January 2019. (Photo: Thapelo Morebudi / Sunday Times)

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has once again said that wage deals will be signed with South Africa’s big platinum producers, this time on Friday, 15 November 2019. The union said on Tuesday that the signing ceremony would take place on Wednesday and then pulled the plug amid apparent last-minute wrangling. Hopefully, there is no false alarm this time.

If all goes according to plan, at 10am on Friday in Rosebank, Johannesburg South Africa’s big three platinum producers — Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum (Implats) and Sibanye-Stillwater — will sign wage agreements with Amcu. Other unions are also on board. That will conclude the 2019 round of wage talks, which were accomplished without a protracted and violent strike, the last thing that South Africa’s ailing economy needs right now.

The writing had frankly been on the wall for some time. The industry has made a dramatic turnaround and was in a position to offer pay increases above inflation, which has been relatively muted, taking some of the sting out of the wages that miners take home or send back to their families in rural areas. Amcu, for its part, was from the outset not demanding the 100%-plus increases it had initially sought in the past. And the union may have been reluctant to push things to the point of a strike vote, which must now be held by secret ballot.

In short, the heavens were lined up for a strike-free outcome. Expect Amcu’s charismatic leader Joseph Mathunjwa, who is a devout Christian from a Salvation Army background, to make biblical references on Friday — provided he does not evoke the satanic forces of white monopoly capital and pull out at the last minute.

This does not mean that all is well on the platinum belt, which has long been a flashpoint of social and labour unrest. Many of the shantytowns that ring the mines remain wretched places of stark poverty made worse by the failure of local governments to deliver basic services. And tensions among unions are bubbling again.

Late in October 2019, a member of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was shot dead in Marikana and NUM sources say several of its members are in hiding. Ever since Amcu dislodged the ANC-linked NUM as the dominant platinum union, the turf war between the two for members has been a leading source of tension and violence.

And NUM plans to hold a rally in Marikana on Sunday, which Amcu regards as sacred territory as it is the site of the massacre of its striking members on that fateful day in August 2012. Union sources say police are already beefing up their presence in the community ahead of the planned rally.

The wage talks are over, but fresh conflict may be brewing. BM

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