South Africa's Marikana mining massacre: who is to blame?Published by MAC on 2012-08-21
Source: Statements, Globe and Mail, Mining.com, Guardian
A London Calling report
The mayhem, unleashed last week around a platinum mine site in South Africa, marks one of the most horrendous developments of the post-apartheid era.
|Police at the seem of the Marikuna shooting. Source: SANA|
Judging by the reports (below), selected from numerous similar articles, just two things are clear beyond doubt:
On Thursday, 16 August, South African police fired on a crowd of people, gathered on a hilltop outside the Marikana mine in NorthWest province. The shootings left thirty four dead, and at least 70 injured. Earlier in the week, another ten people had already died in "clashes".
But, beyond these appalling facts, almost nothing else has yet been verified. Did the crowd really pose a deadly threat to the mining company - London-based Lonmin - or the police? How many of the protestors could authentically be described as criminals?
To what extent did acknowledged competition between two rival unions - both accusing the company of reneging on agreements - play a decisive role in fomenting the violence?
South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, swiftly ordered an official inquiry into these events.
If this is to have any fundamental impact, it needs to be not just fiercely independent, but also mandated to go far beyond domestic "labour issues" into the nature of the country's mineral dependency.
Not least, it should also probe deep into widespread political corruption, which much of the country's leadership seems powerless (or averse) to address.
Coincidentally, just two days before the Marikana murders, South Africa's well-respected Bench Marks Foundation released a study entitled "Living in the Platinum Mines Fields".
This claimed that, while the platinum companies appear, on the surface, to be socially responsible, respectful of communities and workers and contributing to host community development, "nothing can be further from the truth".
And it's a truth displaying numerous different layers.
Appropriate as it is to blame Lonmin and its fellow platinum miners (notably Anglo Platinum and Impala) for their long-existing egregious behaviours, they are not the only culprits in the background to last week's tragic events.
A great deal of responsibility for the chaos must also be laid at the doors of government and the unions.
Divide and rule?
In a reasonably even-handed analysis of conflicts between the unions and the platinum companies, and tensions between the unions themselves, David Bannister interviewed leaders of both the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and its rival, the Association of Construction and Mineworkers Union (ACMU), for the 17th August issue of the Mining Journal. (The piece was written just before the massacre at Marikana).
Banner quotes both representatives at some length, mentioning a third union, the predominantly white membership Solidarity (sic) - although this group does not appear to have taken any major role in recent events.
The MJ journalist roots last week's crisis in the implementation of South Africa's existing labour laws which, he says, insist on a high (up to 50%) membership at a mine,before a union can legimitately represent the workforce.
If so, this helps explain the growth in frustration on the part of AMCU, as it struggled to negotiate better pay and conditions for its low-paid (rock face) workers with Implats earlier this year. See: South Africa's implacable labouring foes
And the outrage expressed last week, as the union failed to obtain concessions from Lonmin: it is 3,000 employees, ostensibly belonging to the AMCU, which Lonmin said it would sack unless they returned to work this week.
It may also partly explain the belligerent official NUM rejection of recent strike actions by its competitor union, which it accuses of jeopardising negotiations of its own two-year wages deal - so-called "threshold agreements" - with the platinum companies.
NUM spokesperson, Lesiba Seshoka, told the Mining Journal, that his union considered "there's no need for [such] negotiations". However, in an apparent "peace offering", Seshoka also said that the NUM would accept competition from the AMCU provided it abandoned "violent methods".
Seshoka added: "There's really nothing wrong with the emergence of new players in the area. If they can get enough members, and they want to engage with us, it's fine. We're working pretty well with our rivals".
Moreover, while affirming that current threshold agreements were necessary to maintain "platinum sector stability", Seshoka warned that employers would exploit inter-union rivalry to "divide and rule" the workforce.
However, in its official statement of the 16th August, the NUM made it obvious what it understands as "stability" in this context: essentially, maintaining its own privileged relationship with management.
That statement didn't hide the antipathy, felt by the well-paid leadership of the NUM towards recent strike actions taken by the AMCU, regardless of whether this had prompted violence on the part of the police.
Indeed, the union appealed "to all workers to go back to work and for the law enforcement agencies to crack down [sic] the culprits of the violence and murders."
The NUM went on to make "further appeals to the authorities to ensure successful prosecution of those arrested" and urged "political opportunists to refrain from using genuine working class challenges for their own benefit and narrow political interests."
So, just which "narrow political interests" have been at work in the lead-up to last week's slaughter?
That's surely a matter for a thorough judicial inquiry, if such eventuates.
Already, one South African comentator, writing for the UK's Guardian newspaper, is in little doubt that much of the blame for the Marikana killings can be laid at the door of Zuma's ruling ANC and its ally, COSATU (Congress of Trade Unions), if not the NUM itself.
Justin Malala alludes to the legendary ANC leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, who is not only the board of Lonmin itself, but also established a company, called Incawala, which acts as Lonmin's Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) partner.
As for the AMCU, Malala declared it is "organising among poor workers and their shack settlement communities, which have become no-go zones for police. For these settlements, this is a strike against the state and the haves, not just a union matter."
If this is true, then nothing but the most intensive, unbiased, enquiry into last week's events could begin laying bare the reasons for this bloody tragedy in the platinum fields.
Lonmin to miners: Rock up for work on Monday or you're fired
19 August 2012
A standoff between hundreds of striking rock-drill operators (RDOs) gathered on a hilltop wielding pangas and sticks at London-listed Lonmin's Marikana mine in the NorthWest province of South Africa ended when police began firing on a surging crowds leaving 34 dead.
Lonmin had initially ordered miners to return to work by Friday and then changed the deadline to Monday adding in a statement that workers "could therefore be dismissed if they fail to heed the final ultimatum."
THe RDOs are asking for the minimum wage to be increased from R4,000 (just under $500) to R12,500 ($1,540).
The Mail & Guardian spoke to one striking worker who ruled out the chance of a return to work:
"Expecting us to go back is like an insult. Many of our friends and colleagues are dead, then they expect us to resume work. Never," said worker Zachariah Mbewu, adding that no one would return to work as long as they were still in mourning.
"Some are in prison and hospitals. Tomorrow we are going back to the mountain [protest site], not underground, unless management gives us what we want."
AP reports in 2011 after a "similar dispute over labor representation stopped work at its nearby Karee mine, Lonmin fired all 9,000 workers. Then it asked them to reapply for their jobs and most were rehired."
The 3,000 striking miners are represented by the Asociation of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which is attempting to raise its profile as an alternative to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the country's largest mining union.
On Friday, Amcu said it has roughly 30,000 members nationally and is the recognised union at Lonmin's SA operations with 7,000 members.
Lonmin said in an announcement on Thursday that its CEO, Ian Farmer, has been hospitalized after "being diagnosed with a serious illness".
The violence started last weekend - another 10 people including police, guards and workers had died before Thursday's shootings - and Lonmin has now lost a week's worth of production which translates into more than 15,000 platinum ounces.
The Marikana complex has a total workforce of 28,000 and accounts for some 12% of global platinum output.
Spot platinum prices jumped by more than $44 an ounce on Thursday as the news about the killings broke and the precious metal settled at $1,472 on Friday, up another $36.
The metal, mainly used in catalytic converters for vehicles, is still down more than 20% compared to this time last year. South Africa accounts for 80% of global platinum production.
Exclusive Analysis: Platinum violence could spread to South Africa's coal, iron mines - gold safe for now (article abbreviated)
18 August 2012
A week of sporadic clashes between rival unions and the police that left 10 people dead was followed on Thursday by some of the worst violence post-apartheid South Africa has experienced.
A standoff between hundreds of strikers gathered on a hilltop wielding pangas and sticks at London-listed Lonmin's Marikana mine in the NorthWest province ended when police began firing on a surging crowds leaving 34 dead.
Natznet Tesfay, Head of Africa Forecasting for Exclusive Analysis, a UK-based risk consultancy with 1,200 analysts spread across the globe, says there is a distinct possibility for further unrest at South Africa's mines over the next month:
The 3,000 striking miners are represented by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which is attempting to raise its profile as an alternative to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the country's largest mining union. In early 2012, a six-week strike at Impala Platinum's Rustenburg facility turned violent when AMCU began recruiting among NUM's membership."
She continued, "despite widespread condemnation of the police's action, military and police personnel at Marikana are unlikely to withdraw, which mitigates risk of targeted damage to Lonmin's mining assets.
However, our sources state that AMCU has lost control of the striking miners who ignored AMCU calls to vacate the site. This raises the probability of further violent confrontations between security forces and striking miners over the next few days, in turn raising the risk of collateral damage to assets such as vehicles near the mining site.
If rock drill operators continue to refuse to return to work, Lonmin is likely to dismiss striking workers, triggering further violent protests and confrontations with security forces. If workers return to work, mining operations are likely to resume early next week. President Jacob Zuma's decision to return to South Africa from a regional conference indicates the government's intent to seek a swift end to the strike.
The NUM is a key ally of the government through its affiliation to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). It is likely to call for AMCU to be banned.
The killing of AMCU's members at Marikana and any political action against AMCU is likely to trigger retaliatory violence against NUM members and police at other platinum mines, raising risk of violent and protracted strike action over the next month at platinum mines in South Africa. Contagion risks will also increase for coal and iron ore miners. AMCU has little membership in the gold mining sector or outside the mining sector, which shields these sectors from contagion risks.
The strike at Implats is indicative of a gradual erosion of support away from COSATU. COSATU is increasingly perceived as bureaucratic and too close to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party. This increases the probability of splits by affiliate unions over the next year, which is likely to exacerbate and complicate future labour unrest over the next year."
On Friday, Amcu said it has roughly 30,000 members nationally and is the recognised union at London-based Lonmin's SA operations with 7,000 members, most of them at Lonmin's Karee mine which is part of the Marikana complex.
On Saturday News24 reported the country's resources minister Susan Shabango is setting up a task force to look into labour issues and that the commission of inquiry being set up by president Jacob Zuma to investigate the shootings could be a judicial one.
...Lonmin has so far lost seven days of production which translates into output losses more than 15,000 platinum ounces. It produces 12% of the world's platinum.
Spot platinum prices jumped by more than $44 an ounce on Thursday as the news about the killings broke and the precious metal settled at $1,472 on Friday, up another $36.
The metal, mainly used in catalytic converters for vehicles, is still down more than 20% compared to this time last year. South Africa accounts for 80% of global platinum production.
The Marikana action is a strike by the poor against the state and the haves
The shooting at Lonmin's Marikana mine exposes weaknesses at the heart of South African society
The Guardian (UK)
17 August 2012
The story of the London-listed Lonmin's Marikana mine shootings is that of a trade union that cosied up to big business; of an upstart and populist new union that exploited real frustration to establish itself; and of police failure.
It is a story which exposes South Africa's structural weaknesses too: we are one of the world's top two most unequal societies (with Brazil). Poverty, inequality and unemployment lie at the heart of the shootings this week.
The Lonmin story starts with the 360,000-member National Union of Mineworkers, formed in the 1980s to fight apartheid labour laws. Under the leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa - ironically now on the board of Lonmin, which owns the mine where the shootings occurred - the union became the biggest affiliate to the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), a powerful ally of the ruling ANC.
For more than a decade Cosatu has concentrated on socioeconomic and political issues. Instead of organising on the shop floor it has harried the ANC government to adopt increasingly left-leaning policies. The NUM, one of the two biggest unions within Cosatu, has been at the forefront of these struggles.
Over the past few years the NUM has been split by succession battles inside the ANC, with the current leadership campaigning for ANC President Jacob Zuma to win a second term.
The union has paid a heavy price for this. At the Lonmin mines its membership has declined from 66% of workers to 49% and it has lost its organisational rights.
Disgruntled and expelled union leaders had in the meantime started a new union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, and were organising on the NUM's turf.
The NUM's achilles heel was that its relationship with mine owners and the Chamber of Mines had become too close. Its secretary, Frans Baleni, is a more strident critic of the nationalisation of mines than many business leaders. The union has also allegedly accepted wage settlements that tied workers into years of meagre increases.
The AMCU dangled a fat piece of fruit in front of the workers' eyes: rock drillers (who are the core of this strike and do the hardest work underground) earning R4,000 a month were promised R12,500 a month. The union's support in the Lonmin mines shot up to 19% by last month, and it embarked on an illegal strike to force its pay demand.
This week the strike turned violent. On the ground, armed workers are promising to "take a bullet with my fellow workers". Traditional doctors have been anointing strikers with potions, allegedly making them invincible.
The AMCU's leaders are preparing for war.
The NUM has lost all credibility and is bleeding members.
Its already well-paid secretary, Baleni, was awarded a salary increase of more than 40% last year and his total salary package is just more than R105 000 a month. NUM leaders have refused to get out of police armoured vehicles to address workers. Last year one of them was struck with a brick and lost an eye. They have no cogent plan to end the strike.
The police, too, have lost credibility. Although the indications are that they were shot at, a death count of 34 in three minutes suggests panic, ill-preparedness and fear. A judicial inquiry is likely.
Lonmin saw its chief executive hospitalised with a serious illness two days ago. It is leaderless, then, and has no coherent plan to end the impasse. On Friday it kept a stony silence after days of hapless statements.
This could all have been prevented. Amcu has been organizing at other mines in the region and violence flared at Impala Platinum earlier this year, with several people killed in a manner not dissimilar to this week's events. The police failed to act or gather intelligence to prevent a recurrence.
The AMCU is also organising among poor workers and their shack settlement communities, which have become no-go zones for police. For these settlements, this is a strike against the state and the haves, not just a union matter.
The political leaders now pouring into the area are flying into hostile territory without a plan. Joseph Mathunjwa, an AMCU leader, told workers today: "We're going nowhere. If need be, we're prepared to die."
Who is to blame for the killings?
Channel Four News (UK)
17 August 2012
As the number of protesters killed at a South African platinum mine reaches 34, a blame game has begun over the deaths, a reminder to the public of the dark days of apartheid.
The violence at Marikana, 60 miles north-west of Johannesburg, peaked yesterday after police opened fire on a crowd of 3,000 protesting mine workers. Official sources said 34 died in the violence and 78 were injured. Hundreds more have been arrested.
South African president Jacob Zuma said today that he was launching an inquiry into the killing so "we can get to the real cause of the incident and learnt the necessary lessons".
"We assure the South African people in particular that we remain fully committed to ensuring that this country remains a peaceful, stable, productive and thriving nation that is focused on improving the quality of life for all, especially the poor and the working class," he said.
"It is against this background that we have to uncover the truth about what happened her."
In the week running up to yesterday's bloodshed, 10 people, including two police officers, had already been killed in clashes between rival miners' unions - the National Union of Miners (NUM) and the Association of Miners and Construction Union (AMCU) - and the police.
At the forefront of the miners' protests was a demand for higher wages, but in the background was the rivalry between the NUM, an ally of South Africa's leading African National Congress Party, and AMCU, an "upstart" looking to challenge NUM's dominance.
Crowds of women, many of themm wives of the protestors, gathered at the platinum mine today to protest and to search for their loved ones.
Who is to blame?
The South African Police Service (SAPS) and the government's police ministry have laid the blame for the deaths at the door of the protesting miners, branding members of the crowd "hardcore criminals" who "murder police".
A statement from the police service said officers had been trying peacefully to disarm and disperse the "illegal gatherers" when they were attacked and forced to defend themselves.
"The South African Police Service was viciously attacked by the group, using a variety of weapons, including firearms," the statement said. "The police, in order to protect their own lives and in self-defence, were forced to engage the group with force. This resulted in several individuals being fatally wounded, and others injured."
Zweli Mnisi, spokesman for South Africa's police minister, said: "The minister is of the view that given the volatility of the situation, police did their best.
"What should police do in such situations when clearly what they are faced with are armed and hardcore criminals who murder police?"
Newspapers in South Africa were quick to condemn the police for the violence. Headlines this morning described Marikana as a "Bloodbath", "Killing Field" and "Mine Slaughter".
The images of police officers standing over the bodies of protesters rekindles memories of South Africa's apartheid past.
One radio station caller likened the incident, at Lonmin's Marikana platinum plant, to the 1960 Sharpeville township massacre near Johannesburg, when apartheid police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters, killing more than 50.
The ANC Youth League likened the police force to a "bloodthirsty killing machine."
In a statement the youth wing of the ANC said: "It will never be correct for our society to turn on and kill law enforcement agencies, but the South African Police Service, mandated to serve and protect us, cannot never also turn into a bloodthirsty killing machine.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms the use of live ammunition in public order policing and call on Minister Mthethwa to conduct full investigation to explain to South Africans how it is that police turned on our people and killed them, when the right to life paramount."
The NUM said it regretted the "riots at Lonmin and may the ring leaders who caused these be arrested irrespective of union affiliation".
The main opposition to the ANC, the Democratic Alliance, also called for an inquiry. Dianne Kohler Barnard, shadow minister of the police, said: "The massacre which ensued and the use of live ammunition by the police have raised some very serious questions about how the SAPS manage violent protests.
"In particular, we want to know who authorised the use of live ammunition on the striking workers. We have to know what the line of command was for yesterday's protest. Whoever gave the order to use live ammunition and open fire must be held accountable."
Lonmin and the unions
The ANC Youth League has criticised "murderous and unscrupulous elements within the trade union movement" for the tragedy, saying they provoked the "vulnerable" workers into rampaging.
The ANC, led by Jacob Zuma, has also said the deaths could have been avoided "had the trade union operating at Lonmin and Lonmin mine management found a resolution to the dispute."
Earlier in the week, AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa had warned there would be bloodshed if police tried to disperse the crowd. "We're going nowhere," he had told the protesters through a loud-hailer. "If need be, we're prepared to die here."
The NUM has been calling on Twitter for the ring leaders who stoked the violence to be arrested. The AMCU, in turn, has accused the NUM of lying about events at the platinum mine.
The protesters are reportedly paid around 4,000 South African rand a month, equivalent to £306. The workers, many of whom live in shacks near the mine, had been asking for their salaries to increase to around 12,000 rand.
Lonmin chairman Roger Phillimore said the company deeply regretted the loss of life at the site, but said the dispute was clearly a "public order rather than labour relations associated matter".
Marikana is the jewel in the crown of Lonmin's mining operation. It contributes around 92 per cent of Lonmin's total annual production. Shares in the company fell by 14.5p, or 2.24 per cent, in trading on the London stock exchange today.
Since the dark days of South Africa's apartheid ended in 1994 the country has remained in dire economic straits. The gap between the rich and the poor is described by the World Bank as "extreme", with 25 per cent of people unemployed and "limited access to economic opportunities and basic services".
The controversial former leader of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, pointed at the economy as a cause, saying South Africa's "Arab Spring" was inevitable.
On the day of the killing the Democratic Alliance criticised the government for failing to reduce the economic gap, and said that the divisions in the ANC had left South Africa "in an uncertain situation with no clear vision for growth or economic justice."
South Africa Mine Violence
16 August 2012
Marikana, South Africa -- Rising tensions at a South African platinum mine exploded Thursday in grisly violence as police opened fire on striking miners.
Blood-stained bodies lay strewn about a field in a police response reminiscent of the ugly days of apartheid.
Police have not released a death toll, but a South African Press Association reporter counted 18 corpses.
It's feared more could be dead.
Witnesses described the scene as chaotic, making it seemingly impossible to determine who started firing on whom first.
The South African Police Service, though, issued a statement late Thursday indicating its members trying to "disarm and disperse a heavily armed group of illegal gatherers at Lonmin mine" when they were fired upon.
"The South African Police Service was viciously attacked by the group, using a variety of weapons, including firearms," the agency said. "The police, in order to protect their own lives and in self defense, were forced to engage the group with force."
Taurai Maduna was one of several journalists at the mine in Marikana who was told the weeklong strike was going to end Thursday.
"We waited and waited," he told CNN. "Police started moving into the crowd."
He said the police brought in barbed wire to fence in the miners, who were believed to be armed with guns, machetes and sticks, CNN affiliate E-TV reported.
Police fired tear gas and then used a water cannon to disperse the strikers congregating atop a hill. The mine workers retaliated by firing at police, and a storm of gunfire lasted about three minutes, E-TV said.
"There was a lot of commotion," Maduna said. "There was tear gas everywhere. I haven't seen anything like this."
The situation remained tense Thursday night after what was the deadliest day in almost a week of violence at the Markinana mines.
With the situation "still unfolding" at that time, "senior officials from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate" were managing the scene, according to the South African Police Service. The commissioner of the national police agency, Gen. Riah Phiyega, was among those at the site.
How diamonds, mining fuel Africa's conflicts
Production at the world's third-largest platinum producer came to a halt as workers, mostly rock drillers, embarked on a wildcat wage strike last Friday over a wage dispute.
The miners who earn between $300 and $500 a month are demanding up to $1,500 a month in salary.
The violence was believed sparked by a rivalry between unions that wield a lot of power and influence in South Africa.
A statement from Lonmin said 10 people had died before Thursday's incident -- eight mine workers and two policemen, who were reported to have been hacked to death.
Roger Phillimore, the chairman of Lonmin, said his company regretted the loss of life "in what is clearly a public order rather than labor relations associated matter."
"We are treating the developments around police operations this afternoon with the utmost seriousness," he said.
The company had issued an ultimatum to the striking workers: Return to work by Friday or face dismissal. That was before Thursday's bloodshed.
"The violence that has occurred cannot be condoned and has no place in the way that labor relations and inter-union relations should be conducted," said Mildred Oliphant, the minister of labor. "The loss of life has been particularly tragic and unnecessary."
Earlier this year, at least three people were killed during a six-week strike at the world's second-largest platinum mine, Impala Platinum.
That violence also was blamed on union rivalry, though the two implicated unions, accused of trying to outdo each other in negotiating wages, deny instigating the clashes.
Frans Baleni, head of the dominant National Union for Mineworkers, said Monday that members were under siege.
"Our members have been attacked, and that cannot be said to be clashes or rivalry, it is pure criminality," he said.
The newer Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union also denied any blame.
In response to the latest violence, a statement posted on South African President Jacob Zuma's website on Thursday night said Zuma "is alarmed and deeply saddened at the manner in which (the) dispute ... has degenerated," calling the deaths "tragic" and "senseless."
The president urged union and business leaders to use "dialogue without any breaches of law or violence" to resolve the "situation before it deteriorates any further," adding that government authorities have a role as well.
"I have instructed law enforcement agencies to do everything possible to bring the situation under control and to bring the perpetrators of violence to (justice)," Zuma said.
A country fractures: from the mines, a killing field in South Africa
The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
16 August 2012
JOHANNESBURG - The wild volley of gunfire erupted for less than three minutes. When it was over, at least seven bodies - and perhaps as many as 18 - lay in pools of blood on a dusty South African hilltop. It took just a brief burst of gunfire to expose all of the worst ills of post-apartheid South Africa: a volatile cocktail of poverty, labour militancy, police brutality, industrial decline and an increasingly angry and radicalized population.
The deadly clash between police and striking workers on Thursday was the latest chapter in a saga of mounting violence in South Africa's mining sector - historically the biggest employer in the country, but now in serious decline.
The assault by enraged mineworkers, which sparked the final volley of gunfire, should have been no surprise to the police. It followed a week of bloodshed at the Marikana platinum mine, about 70 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, owned by London-based Lonmin.
Up to 3,000 police, backed by helicopters and armoured vehicles, have been facing off against about 3,000 striking workers, many of whom were carrying machetes, iron rods and wooden sticks. So far 10 people have already been killed, including two police officers and two security guards.
At first the police used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse the workers. But when a mob of workers charged toward them on Thursday, the police resorted to live ammunition, seemingly unprepared for safer ways of defusing the conflict.
The police, wearing helmets and body armour, opened fire on the workers with automatic rifles and pistols, leaving bodies piled on the ground. South African media called it a "killing field."
There were reports that some workers may have fired shots or thrown missiles at the police, provoking the deadly retaliation, but this was unconfirmed.
Authorities have refused to give an official toll of the dead and wounded, but one South African reporter counted 18 bodies on the ground. South African President Jacob Zuma said he was "shocked and dismayed" at the "senseless violence."
South Africa's mining sector, which includes the world's biggest platinum reserves and one of the world's leading gold industries, has been plagued by violence for years. At least three people were killed in January during clashes at a major platinum mine, run by Impala Platinum.
The immediate cause of the latest violence at the Marikana mine was the growing feud between two unions: the traditionally powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), with its links to the political establishment, and its militant new rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which has fewer members but is faster growing.
Leaders of NUM have accused its rival of poaching members and deliberately instigating violence, while AMCU has alleged that the older union is colluding with management.
"If need be, we're prepared to die here," AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa told his members on a loudspeaker as the police prepared to disperse them on Thursday.
The struggle between the two unions is a mirror of a deeper political rift between the ruling African National Congress and radical groups such as its youth wing, which is demanding the nationalization of the mining industry and other key sectors of the economy.
Persistent poverty and unemployment are major factors in the growing militancy of many South Africans. The jobless rate is officially about 25 per cent, but unofficially it is more than 50 per cent for young South Africans. Poverty and poor housing have stoked demands for higher wages and decent public services.
The upstart union, AMCU, launched a strike against Lonmin last week, demanding a sharp pay increase to give workers a monthly wage of about $1,500. The company called it an illegal strike.
The leading national union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which is affiliated with South Africa's ruling party, condemned the emergence of radical new unions at the Marikana mine and elsewhere in the country. The threat is "the most serious challenge to workers' unity and strength for many years," the federation said.
The situation is turning into "a co-ordinated political strategy to use intimidation and violence, manipulated by disgruntled former union leaders, in a concerted drive to create breakaway ‘unions' and weaken the trade union movement," COSATU said in a statement on Thursday.
But while the militant new groups are dividing and weakening the political establishment, the violence is also inflicting severe damage on South Africa's economic growth and its global reputation.
Lonmin, the world's third-biggest platinum producer, has suspended all of its production in South Africa, representing about 12 per cent of global output of the precious metal. Its shares on the London Stock Exchange have dropped sharply over the past week and it has lost about 15,000 ounces of planned platinum production since the violence began.
Death toll climbs to 28 at Lonmin mine
16 August 2012
There has been a call for an urgent investigation into the shootings that occurred at the Lonmin mine in South Africa this Thursday.
South African police began firing on a surging crowd of workers leaving many injured, bloody and possibly dead.
Prior to the shooting the police attempted to disperse the crowd with water cannons and gas grenades.
The mine, which is owned by Lonmin, was site to ten deaths over the weekend as a result of fighting between police and those on strike.
In speaking to Fin24 Jackson Mthembu, the African National Congress spokesperson, said, "All of us feel very saddened by the violence we have seen on television. We are requesting that our government hold an inquiry on what happened today so that all of us South Africans can come to a conclusion on who is responsible."
While the full extent of the shooting is unknown the New York Times reports 18 dead.
The BBC reports that the police opened fired after miners wielding machetes refused to disarm.
During the fighting the use of projectiles, assumed to be firebombs, were used against police who returned fire with a mix of live ammunition and rubber bullets.
In speaking to Fin24 police minister Nathi Mthetha said that the police did all they could before shooting. "We had a situation where people who were armed to the teeth, attacked and killed others even police officers and, for the record, one of the firearms used was that of our deceased police officer."
"The police threatened them with water from the water cannon, fired tear gas and stun grenades. And then in the commotion - we were about 800m (2,600ft) from the scene - we heard gunshots that lasted for about two minutes," said Molaole Monsthe of the South African news agency to the BBC.
The shooting took place near Marikana, the third-largest platinum mine in the world.
Lonmin mine has been ripe with unrest since August 10 when close to 3,000 workers initiated a strike over unjust pay.
The Huffington post reports that ". . .amid the unrest, global platinum values rose more than $30 an ounce in trading Thursday while stock in Lonmin plunged 6.76 percent on the London Stock Exchange."
NUM statement on developments at Lonmin
16 August 2012
The National Union of Mineworkers expresses condolences to the affected families of the ten victims who died at Lonmin and regret this loss of life.The NUM maintains that the loss of life was unnecessary and violence should never be allowed to replace dialogue.
The NUM further maintains that it is not in a clash with any organisation at Lonmin but that there are concerted attacks on its membership at the platinum producer.
Undermining bargaining structures
The background to the violence at Lonmin lies in the companies undermining bargaining processes and structures. This trend has its roots at Impala Platinum where the company unilaterally adjusted wages for certain categories of employees leaving others out. This led to some elements founding a loophole to exploit, especially forces of violence.
Lonmin followed suit. Ignoring an existing collective agreement, the company undermined the bargaining process by unilaterally offering an allowance of between R750-250 to rock-drill operators outside the bargaining process.
Inconsistency in the application of labour policies
The NUM has noted with serious concern inconsistencies in the application of labour policies and discipline at both Lonmin and Impala where its members have to apply three days in advance to have a gathering whereas other trade unions or even groupings can have gatherings without following procedure with no consequences.
Violence and anarchy must be contextualised
It is worrying that violence is increasingly becoming a culture of the South African society at large where people opt out of dialogue in favour of violence and destruction of property.
We have seen instances where communities protest over lack of service delivery but destroy the very infrastructure that they already have such as schools, libraries etc. It has become part of the South African culture where other people eliminate others because they are either a political threat or due to the fact that they have information about them on corruption.
The various social challenges that the country faces such as the ever increasing number of informal settlements next to mining areas; high unemployment; the continuous existence of single sex hostels; the increasing number of the working poor exacerbated by the continuous existence of the apartheid wage gap and tribalism would if not curbed result in large scale disintegration of the South African society.
Furthermore the high levels of indebtedness of the workforce and the blacklisting of workers by credit bureaus exacerbate the situation as more workers look for shortcuts to having money.
Failure to comply with transformation
The NUM argues that failure to comply with transformation targets as well as polices such as the mining charter and the social labour plans is detrimental to the mining industry. If the captains of the industry were to comply, there could be minimal social challenges which will in turn yield positive results for them.
Weaknesses in law enforcement
There are huge weaknesses in our law enforcement such as defocussed intelligence as well as inconsistencies in law enforcement. The NUM is worried of the high levels of corruption in the system where dockets disappear.
Responsibility by the Chamber of Mines
The NUM believes that the Chamber of Mines for example has to take full responsibility for the challenges in the mining industry as many of them are due to their inaction.
As a way forward, the NUM appeals to all workers to go back to work and for the law enforcement agencies to crack down the culprits of the violence and murders. The union further appeals to the authorities to ensure successful prosecution of those arrested.
Part of the way forward should include Lonmin conducting an investigation on how its inaction has led to all this. The NUM demands that the families of the deceased must be compensated as if the deceased died on duty. Workers must be paid what is due to them as they have always been available to go to work but the company could not provide them with transport and security.
The NUM believes that these challenges in the mining industry are an invitation to all stakeholders which includes the producers, the unions and the regulators to a dialogue to discuss amongst others the discrepancies in wages between the highest paid and the lowest paid workers.
The NUM further urge political opportunists to refrain from using genuine working class challenges for their own benefit and narrow political interests.
Frans Baleni- (NUM General Secretary)- 082 375 6443
Lesiba Seshoka- (NUM Spokesman)- 082 803 6719
National Union of Mineworkers
7 Rissik Street
Tel: 011 377 2047
Cell: 082 803 6719
Press statement - Bench Marks Foundation re Lonmin killings
Statement issued by John Capel Executive Director, Bench Marks Foundation
17 August 2021
Yesterday the President of the SACC and Chairperson of the Bench Marks Foundation, Bishop Jo Seoka and a team, met with the striking Lonmin workers. He was told by the striking workers that they wanted management to talk to them.
The SACC team left to seek a meeting with management as requested by the leaders of the striking miners. On arrival they were welcomed and told that the briefing has just been done. Bishop Seoka met with management who informed him that they were not in a position to meet with the strikers because they were killing innocent people.
However later they agreed to a meeting provided the workers committed to three conditions: surrender their weapons, elect a small representative group to engage with management and disperse from the mountain.
Management later introduced the Bishop and his team to the Commanding Officer, Ms Mbombo, who briefly explained to them that two policemen were killed and that the strikers were given an ultimatum to surrender their weapons and disperse.
On leaving the briefing area to report back to the miners, the SACC team was told they could not go back to the camp as the place was now a security risk area under the police.
Bishop Seoka said they saw two helicopters taking off and assumed that they were going to the mountain where the workers were camping. ‘As they left the area a call came through from the man we spoke to telling us that the police were killing them and we could hear the gun shots and screams of people', says the Bishop. ‘The man covered with green blanket lying dead was the last person we spoke to who represented the mine workers.'
The Bench Marks Foundation's study, ‘Living in the Platinum Mines Fields' released on the 14th August 2012 paints a grim picture of mining and communities. The platinum mining companies appear on the surface to be socially responsible, respectful of communities and workers and contributing to host community development. ‘Nothing can be further from the truth', says Bishop Seoka.
The Bench Marks Foundation study pointed out that the platinum mines rely on labour brokers and subcontractors that employ workers at very low wages.
The use of migrant and subcontracted labour, the living-out allowance and the overcrowding of townships and squatter camps housing mine workers is a recipe for disaster.
If the truth be told it is shareholders in London and elsewhere that are to blame.
Profits are being made at the expense of workers and communities and with the help of political patronage. Mine companies put politically connected people on their board, such as director generals and former ministers, which leads to a breakdown of democracy, of government oversight, and of regulatory authorities' power.
Whose side is the government on?
The vivid imagery of dead miners lying on the ground in front of heavily armed police evokes a painful resemblance to the role of the police in the apartheid era. Is it not the role of the police to protect its own citizens? ‘Why is the South African government, represented by the South African police force choosing to open fire on its own people, in order to protect a corporation?', asks Seoka.
The lives of black mine workers are clearly not worth much in the eyes of Lonmin or the government.
Unfortunately, recent events at the Lonmin mine are only the tip of the iceberg of the continuous exploitation by platinum mining houses of both mine workers and the surrounding mining communities.
What is happening at Lonmin is a horrific example that is symptomatic of a wider structural problem of exploitation by the mines. The benefits of mining are not reaching the workers or the surrounding communities. Lack of employment opportunities for local youth, squalid living conditions, unemployment and growing inequalities contribute to this mess.
The Bench Marks Foundation's study warned about deteriorating social relations in communities, conflicts and the potential for violent conflict.
Now we witness the brutality of Lonmin not willing to meet their workers. The latest incidents had nothing to do with inter-union rivalry. Bishop Seoka, when speaking to the striking workers yesterday, noted that they were in fact peaceful and just wanted the company to engage them. ‘But we have witnessed similar events around Impala Platinum when three workers lost their lives under similar conditions several months back', said Seoka.
Last May Lonmin fired 9000 workers in an unprotected industrial section. Recently they began retrenching workers. Low wages along with all the social disintegration, crime, murder, rape and prostitution, unemployment and poverty amidst the third richest platinum mine in the world, create an incubator rife for huge worker and community discontent.
This situation could have been avoided. The killing of over 30 workers, and the quietness of Lonmin in all of this is truly shocking,' said Bishop Seoka.
The Bench Marks Foundation and the SACC calls for a high level commission of enquiry involving the churches and other independent organs to examine the situation of mine workers, their wages and living conditions and role of the companies in not effectively dealing with worker and community discontent when it has been boiling for months.
Jo Seoka: 082 893 1378
John Capel: 082 870 8861