Gold One mine ‘hostage’ drama signals possible end of NUM-Amcu honeymoon
More than 500 National Union of Mineworkers members are allegedly being ‘held hostage’ at the Gold One mine on the East Rand by the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. This may signal the beginning of the end of the unions’ show of unity in recent years, which could have dire consequences for the mining sector.
Is the NUM-Amcu honeymoon over?
That certainly seems a possibility as more than 500 National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) members are allegedly being held hostage by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) underground at the Gold One mine on the East Rand, according to the NUM — an allegation that Amcu disputes.
The mine workers were working the overnight shift on Sunday and prevented from returning to the surface by armed men, NUM spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu told Daily Maverick.
Gold One described the unfolding situation as both a “sit-in” and a “hostage” situation, while Amcu General Secretary Jeff Mphahlele said that NUM members who wanted to join Amcu were taking part in a sit-in.
“Gold One’s Modder East Operations in Springs is aware and profoundly concerned about the ongoing sit-in, which has resulted in over 500 employees being held hostage underground, with at least nine employees sustaining injuries,” the company said.
The NUM’s Mammburu said the nine injured mine workers were NUM members who were attacked.
“There is a hostage situation at the Gold One mine — 543 of our members are being held underground. They were not allowed to come back to the surface this morning,” Mammburu told Daily Maverick.
“It’s now a crime scene. The police must arrest the perpetrators, the mine cannot ensure their safety. Our members have been kidnapped against their will.”
The NUM is the dominant union at Gold One and the latest flare-up in its rivalry with Amcu is rooted in the latter’s bid to secure legal recognition at the mine — a state of affairs that in the past has sparked wildcat strikes and violence between the unions.
“We are actively engaging with relevant authorities, including the DMRE [Department of Mineral Resources and Energy] and the SAPS to ensure the safety and protection of all parties involved. Furthermore, we have initiated legal proceedings to address the situation swiftly and judiciously and have been granted an interdict at the Labour Court this afternoon,” said Gold One.
“This interdict prohibits Amcu and its members from engaging in any illegal strike or any conduct involving the detention or assault of employees.”
“There is no hostage situation there,” Amcu’s Mphahlele told Daily Maverick. “Indeed, it is a sit-in. The problem that we have is the mine management who are cultivating the tug-of-war between the unions.
“The National Union of Mineworkers was a majority here because they were the only union.”
He claimed that Amcu had been organising at the mine and that 1,700 of the company’s 1,870 workers had joined the union.
“It was a concerted effort that was made to say the [NUM] was no longer serving the interests of workers but those of the employer, therefore they must go because they are no longer wanted,” Mphahlele said.
“It then became a war and we ran to the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration]. The CCMA gave us a certificate of non-resolution, which indicated that we could see whether we go to arbitration or strike.
“The employers refuse to give Amcu a chance to lead. They told our regional office that we will not be allowed.”
Gauteng SAPS spokesperson Colonel Dimakatso Nevhuhulwi said, “The police can confirm that approximately 550 mine employees are reportedly held hostage underground at a mine in Springs since last night by alleged members of Amcu union.
“The management of the mine is in talks with the union and the police are on standby to monitor any eventualities.”
The stakes in this unfolding drama could go well beyond Gold One, which is a mid-tier producer.
The NUM-Amcu turf war, which exploded on the Platinum Belt more than a decade ago, was for years a source of labour and social unrest which roiled South Africa’s mining sector and claimed scores of lives, including the 34 mine workers shot dead by police at Marikana in August 2012.
But in the past couple of years, the archrivals buried the hatchet and united in a range of wage talks which saw multiyear agreements signed in the platinum sector without a tool being downed.
Just as their enmity had been the biggest development a decade ago on the labour front in the mining sector, their “peace pact” has been the most significant development on that same front recently. It was made possible by the cordial relationship struck by Amcu’s charismatic president, Joseph Mathunjwa, and the NUM’s now-suspended General Secretary, William Mabapa.
It remains to be seen if this spreads beyond the East Rand. But the NUM and Amcu have not had such a blowout in years. One union is accusing the other of a mass kidnapping in which several people have been injured.
If this signals the end of the NUM-Amcu honeymoon, it bodes ill for the wider mining sector. DM