MAC: Mines and Communities

South Africa's gold sector goes from one crisis to another

Published by MAC on 2012-09-12
Source: Workers World, AP (2012-09-05)

Further state-sponsored violence has been used against South African mineworkers, despite the universal condemnation of the Marikana massacre three weeks ago. See: "Peace" still eludes South Africa following the Marikana massacre

In early September, police, joined by security guards, fired rubber bullets and tear gas at  gold miners, sacked by management of the  Gold One mine near Johannesburg, and allegedly who had attacked other workers.

The mine was bought two years ago by a group that included Southa African president Zuma's nephew and a grandson of Nelson Mandela.

Currently these two men are accused of never paying for the mine, instead stripping most of its assets. They are also said to have failed to honour court orders to pay tens of thousands of dollars to the dismissed workers.

South African miners cheer as murder charges dropped

By Abayomi Azikiwe

Workers World (USA)

5 September 2012

Some 50 workers celebrated outside the jail as South African authorities announced on Sept. 2 that they were provisionally dropping murder charges against 270 miners. All the jailed workers were scheduled to be released by Sept. 6.

The group had been charged with murder after police on Aug. 16 shot and killed 34 miners during a wildcat strike at the Marikana platinum mine, 80 miles northwest of Johannesburg.

Miners from the Lonmin Platinum facilities at Marikana are continuing to pressure their bosses, demanding higher pay and better working conditions. The rock drill operators have been blocking production at the platinum facility for weeks.

Early last month, 10 workers had been killed in clashes between miners represented by two rival unions. The police then massacred the 34 workers in a confrontation after failed efforts to break up their occupation of a hill near the mines. A video of the shooting was seen widely.

In the aftermath of the unrest and shootings, the prosecuting authorities in the North West Province brought murder charges against 270 mineworkers based on an old apartheid-era law related to "common purpose." Under this law, any form of unrest resulting in deaths allows the state to prosecute any people involved in the struggle, even if they were fighting against injustice.

Broad sections of the South African public expressed outrage at this use of "common purpose" legal provisions against the mineworkers. The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the main federation of trade unions, which does not represent the jailed miners, called the murder charge "absurd."

That's why the National Prosecuting Authority announced Sept. 2 that it would suspend the murder charges pending the completion of an investigation. South African President Jacob Zuma had launched a commission of inquiry in the immediate aftermath of the Aug. 16 massacre.

Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe on Aug. 31 demanded that the NPA provide sound legal reasons for charging the mineworkers with murder. Radebe noted that the charges had sparked "shock, panic and confusion" inside the country. (Wall Street Journal, Aug. 31)

The continued detention and murder charges were egregious, since it was the police who fired on the miners. While some workers were armed with traditional weapons, the police used automatic rifles, teargas and water cannons. Autopsies showed many of the miners had been shot in the back.

Mathew Phosa, secretary treasurer of the governing African National Congress, spoke out: "Charging some of the role players in the face of a Commission of Inquiry is reckless, incongruous and almost absurd - the consequences too ghastly to contemplate." (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 1)

Mathole Motshekga, the ANC's chief whip in Parliament, indicated on Sept. 2 that he was glad to see the charges dismissed for now. Nonetheless, the NPA suggested that the prosecution of the miners may resume if the Commission of Inquiry unearths evidence of wrongdoing on the workers' part.

Acting NPA director, Nongcobo Jita, said that those jailed miners who could prove their places of residence would be released pending the outcome of the government inquiry. She blamed the initial murder charges on the North West Province prosecutor, Johan Smit.

The Marikana mines are located in the North West Province. Smit continued to defend the murder charges, saying the decision had legal merit.

Unrest continues in other mines

Since the Marikana massacre, miners have opened struggles at other mining facilities throughout South Africa. In late August and early September, the Royal Bafokeng mines experienced three days of work stoppages. There were strikes and other disruptions in the gold sector.

Four workers were injured when police opened fire Sept. 3 with rubber bullets at the Gold One mine located in Modder East. Just four days earlier, Julius Malema, the expelled president of the ANC Youth League, had spoken at the Aurora Mines, where workers from Gold One had been present.

However, there had been unrest at Gold One since June. Malema blamed the government for what he called collaboration between ANC officials and mining bosses.

At Gold One, bosses dismissed 1,000 workers in June for participation in what the bosses say was an "illegal strike." Of the fired workers, some 300 have been rehired and mine executives claim that others may be taken back if they apply and go through an interview process.

Gold One bosses also claimed that two of their employees were killed in the unrest and another injured due to intimidation by wildcat strikers against other workers. The company has offered a reward for the identification of those responsible.

Most people blame the outbreaks of wildcat strikes throughout the mining sector on the low pay rates and unfavorable conditions of employment. At the profitable Marikana mine, rock drill operators are making less than $500 per month, which cannot sustain the workers and their families.

Fundamental change needed

The ongoing problems in the mining sector of the South African economy stem from the lack of fundamental transformation in the relations of production. The ANC government, which has been in office since 1994, is coming under tremendous pressure to institute changes that would transfer ownership of the mines and other sectors of the economy to the workers and the communities in which they live.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions - COSATU - has 2 million members and is the largest workers' federation in the country. Founded in 1985 during the struggle against white-minority rule, the federation was instrumental in building support for the ANC in the struggle against apartheid and in winning the first one-person, one-vote elections in 1994.

That vote resulted in an overwhelming victory for the ANC and Nelson Mandela, who became the first president in the new South Africa.

However, the world capitalist crisis has had a tremendous impact on Africa's largest economy. Unemployment remains high. The high rates of poverty are totally unacceptable to the majority of people.

That the ANC has not instituted sweeping industrial and agricultural reforms has resulted in internal struggles within the union movement itself. The breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which called the Lonmin strike, is a reflection of this crisis within labor.


South African police, security shoot and injure 4 at gold mine in latest mining clash

By: Michelle Faul

The Associated Press

4 September 2012

JOHANNESBURG - South African police and security guards fired rubber bullets and tear gas Monday at sacked gold miners who were attacking colleagues to block them from working, the mine owner said. Police said four people were wounded at the mine that used to be partially owned by the president's nephew.

The clash at the Gold Fields mine east of Johannesburg, reported by police and Neal Froneman, the CEO of Gold One International, was the latest violence to hit South Africa's mines in months of unrest.

Company spokesman Sven Lunsche said some 12,000 of the company's workers "continue to engage in an unlawful and unprotected strike" that began Wednesday. He said it involved an internal dispute between local union leaders and members of the National Union of Mineworkers, the country's
largest union.

After apartheid ended in 1994, South Africa pressed to share the country's vast mineral wealth with its impoverished black majority. But the hoped-for result has not occurred.

A small black elite has become billionaires off mining while most South Africans continue to struggle against mounting unemployment, deeper poverty and a widening gap between rich and poor that makes the country one of the most unequal on Earth.

The mine where the violence took place Monday has previous business ties to relatives of Nelson Mandela and President Jacob Zuma - and was the site where firebrand politician Julius Malema, an avowed enemy of Zuma, pledged last week to make the nation's mines ungovernable.

South Africa's mining unrest reached a bloody climax on Aug. 16 when police shot 112 striking workers, killing 34 of them, at a platinum mine at Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg. The state violence was reminiscent of apartheid days and has seriously damaged the government's image.

Outrage at the police killings was exacerbated by prosecutors, who last week charged some 270 miners arrested at the scene with the murders and attempted murders of their striking co-workers - people who were killed by police. The National Prosecuting Authority was forced to retract Sunday, withdrawing the charges made under an apartheid-era law.

On Monday, 91 arrested miners were released, much to the joy of their ululating and singing family members and supporters. But there were tears for the many more who remained in custody.

The Independent Complaints Police Directorate has reported receiving complaints from more than 140 miners that they were beaten up in custody by officers trying to get them to name the strikers who hacked to death two policemen who were among 10 people killed in violence that led up to the shootings.

The directorate also is investigating police officers on 34 murder charges and 78 attempted murder charges in the shootings, although no officers have been suspended. A judicial inquiry is to report to the president by January.

Policy say they acted in self-defence. No officer was hurt during the Marikana shootings.

Also Monday, the Khulumani Support Group of some 80,000 survivors of human rights violations under apartheid said it filed an urgent appeal for a U.N. special rapporteur to assess what happened to the miners killed at Marikana, after reports that autopsies showed that many had been shot in the back.

In Monday's violence at Gold Fields, miners dismissed after a wildcat strike in June joined miners who lost their jobs two years ago to try to stop other workers and managers from reaching the mine.

Froneman said as police were called to disperse them, the protesting miners stoned a vehicle carrying people to work.

"Our security had to intervene, they used rubber bullets and police used rubber bullets and tear gas," Froneman told The Associated Press. "Four people were slightly wounded and all have been released from the hospital."

But police spokeswoman Pinky Tsinyane said one of those wounded was in critical condition. The different versions could not immediately be reconciled. Tsinyane also said four people were arrested for public violence.

The Gold Fields mine was bought two years ago by a group including Zuma's nephew and a grandson of anti-apartheid icon Mandela. The two allegedly never paid for the mine but stripped it of most assets and now are being sued by liquidators. They have also failed to honour court orders to pay tens of thousands of dollars to the miners who were thrown
out of work.

Cabinet ministers, meanwhile, sought to reassure investors Monday even as news of the latest clash emerged.

"The tragic incident at Marikana is not a reflection of the business environment in South Africa," Collins Chabane, the minister of state in the presidency, told foreign reporters. "The government remains in control of the situation and law and order continues to prevail. The country continues to fully support direct investment and appropriate incentives and the legislative framework is in place to give confidence and predictability to investment decisions."

Legislator James Lorimer of the opposition Democratic Alliance blamed the latest violence on Malema, an expelled youth leader of the ruling African National Congress who has been using the unrest to try to oust Zuma from power.

Malema, who has called for the nationalization of South Africa's mines and for Zuma to resign over the police killings, went to the gold mine last week and told miners they must fight for their economic freedom.

He sent a message on Twitter on Monday saying he was addressing striking workers at the Gold Fields mine. "(The) Mining Revolution goes on and on and on," he wrote.

The violence that led to the police shootings at London-registered Lonmin PLC mine at Marikana and the Gold One International gold mine was at least partially rooted in union rivalry. Upstart unions have stolen thousands of members away from the dominant National Union of Mineworkers.

Negotiations continued Monday between Lonmin managers, unions and the Department of Labor to resolve workers' demands for a minimum monthly wage of R12,500 ($1,650).

Lonmin said only 4.5 per cent of workers reported for work Monday. The strike that began Aug. 10 is crippling the company, which has said it probably cannot meet debt obligations due at the end of September.

Like the ANC, the politically connected National Union of Mineworkers is accused by rank-and-file workers of cozying up to management, of being more concerned with business than with workers' needs and with losing focus by spearheading Zuma's bid for re-election as ANC president next December.

The general secretary of the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions vowed Monday to speak out.

"What I will not do is agree to be blackmailed and to keep quiet when things are going so wrong in society," Zwelinzima Vavi, who heads a faction that wants Zuma out, told shop stewards in Johannesburg.


South Africa drops Lonmin miners' murder charges

Cecilia Jamasmie

Mining.com

2 September 2012

South African prosecutors have temporarily withdrawn murder charges against the 270 miners accused Thursday of killing 34 striking colleagues shot dead by police at the platinum miner Lonmin's Marikana mine, but warned they could be recharged when inquiries were complete.

According to the BBC, Nomqcobo Jiba, the acting director of public prosecutions, said all detained miners would be freed with a warning, providing police could verify their home addresses.

Sunday's announcement comes as a result of increasing criticism from political parties, trade unions, civil society and legal experts.

In a news conference held Sunday, the National Union of Metal Workers called for the suspension of the police task force "that executed the Marikana massacre."

The union's central committee "calls on the commission to find out and make public who, between the minister of police and the national police commissioner, gave orders to shoot workers with live bullets when they peacefully assembled on that fateful mountain," the union's secretary general Irvin Jim was quoted as saying by The Citizen.

Police had said most of the miners died when officers opened fire as the strikers charged them. Witnesses and journalists who have examined the scene have questioned the police's account.

Talks to resolve the dispute continue at the mine, which has been shut for the past three weeks.

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