Protests and Disturbance in the South African mining industry

Karabo Mokgatle (South Africa)(UWCAC ’11-’13)

On the 10 August 2012, miners under the employment of Lonmin plc, most prominently those at Marikana mine just outside of Rustenberg, South Africa began demands for a salary increase to 12 500 ZAR per month. This would triple their earnings from approximately 308 GBP to 924 GBP. The Demands quickly took the form of a strike and signs of underlying tension between the trade unions involved began to form. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has historically been the most influential and prominent advocate for the rights of miners at this specific mine but has recently lost its organizational rights due to a heavy drop in membership (66% to 49%) and the growth of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). NUM has been accused of ‘being too close to management’ and the their close partnership with the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has until now been an advantage; however, the recent loss of faith in the party has further damaged the NUM’s standing among those it seeks to represent and opened the door to the tensions that have resulted in the deaths of 36 mine workers, two police officers, four unidentified persons and the injury of 78 more.

300 workers left their posts to begin what has been dubbed a ‘wild cat strike,’ of these 3000, four NUM members were fired on and wounded in two separate engagements with AMCU members on the first day.
On the 13th of that same month nine people were killed, including two police officers that were hacked to death. A third was seriously injured. Police responding to these incidents fired on and killed three more miners. Prior to the shooting South African Police Service (SAPS) captain Dennis Adriao said “We have tried over a number of days to negotiate with the leaders and with the gathering here at the mine, our objective is to get the people to surrender their weapons and to disperse peacefully.”

Police intelligence suggested that weapons missing from the bodies of dead officers were in possession of the striking miners, a theory that in police eyes was confirmed by the fact that they were fired upon. This can be considered the main reason that regulation riot gear was abandoned in favour of rifles and armour. The presence of APCs(Armoured Personnel Carriers) showed that the police attitude towards the situation had been drastically altered.

“The militant group stormed towards the police firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons.” -General Riah Phiyega, National Police Commissioner

Footage of the events on the 16th of August shows that traditionally armed miners rushed at the police and were fired upon from the SAPS’s defensive line. The incident resulted in the deaths of 34 miners and has been dubbed the ‘Marikana Massacre.’ It constitutes the heaviest use of force by security services on civilians in South Africa since Apartheid and has been compared to the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. Since the massacre an agreement has been reached in the form of a 22% pay increase and a once off payment of 2 000 ZAR to help cover the six weeks of payless striking.

President Jacob Zuma said on Monday that the disruption had cost the platinum industry 337m GBP in output. These events caused a global drop in confidence and resulted in large-scale share sales. Lonmin is expected to make a recovery but the damage done to the image of South African Trade Unions and the ANC is expected to have more lasting repercussions.

-United Words Team-

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