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LABOUR RELATIONS

Signs of imminent deal to end Sibanye gold strike as union boss Joseph Mathunjwa rallies ‘Numco’ 

Signs of imminent deal to end Sibanye gold strike as union boss Joseph Mathunjwa rallies ‘Numco’ 
Sibanye Stillwater employees affiliated to Amcu and Num protest at the mine's stadium on May 9, 2022 in Driefontein, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/City Press/Tebogo Letsie)

The Amcu president has called on his members and those of the NUM union who are striking at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold mines to gather at the Union Buildings on Friday for ‘feedback’ on the company’s latest offer amid signs that a tentative deal has been reached. Intriguingly, he used the term ‘Numco’ and appeared in a shirt bearing the NUM and Amcu logos. 

Not long ago, Joseph Mathunjwa, the charismatic leader and founder of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), would not have been caught dead in a shirt with the logo of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). 

But there he was on Thursday, calling in a brief video message on members of both unions who have been on strike for almost three months at Sibanye’s gold operations to gather at the Union Buildings on Friday to get feedback on the company’s latest wage offer. 

That may seem an odd, if symbolic, location — expect traffic jams in Pretoria on Friday — but members of both unions have been camping out there in an attempt to draw President Cyril Ramaphosa into the fray. 

And the symbolism of the moment did not end there. 

The fetching new shirt Mathunjwa was wearing was not Amcu’s standard green design. It was black, but emblazoned on it were the logos of both unions. The Amcu logo was pointedly on the left side, which may suggest where his political heart still lies. 

It was a truly South African piece of political/union theatre. More immediately, it and other signs suggest a looming end to the strike. 

And in the longer term, it suggests the NUM/Amcu peace will hold. Indeed, Mathunjwa used the term ‘Numco’ in his brief address. 

The two unions, whose sometimes deadly rivalry was a key source of unrest for years in South Africa’s mining sector, have recently presented a united front in a number of wage talks. Most recently, this has been on display in the Sibanye gold strike, which has not impacted the company’s money-spinning platinum operations. 

We may well be witnessing the emergence of a consolidated union called ‘Numco’. 

Many Amcu members — including Mathunjwa himself — previously belonged to NUM. This helps to explain the intensity of the rivalry over the years. It also helps to explain why this current strike has been thankfully free of violence. 

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The leadership of both unions, including NUM General Secretary William Mabapa, deserve credit on this front, even if the wisdom of the current strike is open to debate. 

And there are signs that a settlement is nigh, though it likely won’t be the R1,000-a-month pay hike for the lowest category of workers in each year over the course of three years that the unions have been demanding. 

Business Maverick understands that at some of the mines, NUM members pressed negotiators this week to reach an agreement. With inflation heating up as temperatures drop, that is perfectly understandable. A working-class household that loses its key source of income in the current environment, with surging fuel and food prices, will be hard-pressed to survive. 

Sources have also indicated that Sibanye has been holding meetings this week with key staff aimed at restarting the gold operations — a sign that a breakthrough is expected. 

Meanwhile, as Sibanye gears up for wage talks in its South African platinum sector, it may find itself negotiating with the black-shirted members of ‘Numco’. 

The first print run of shirts may well become collector’s items down the road. DM/BM

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