MAC/20: Mines and Communities

South African mineworkers' malaise

Published by MAC on 2012-10-16
Source:, Daily Maverick, SAPA

Is the NUM losing control?

A month ago, in the wake of the Marikana massacre, we commented on the failure of South Africa's National Mineworkers' Union, to reconcile with a rival union, the AMCU. See: South Africa: no sign of resolution to labour-based conflicts

Not only has such conciliation not taken place, but nearly 20% of the country's total mining workforce is currently on strike.

And, as accusations grow of its political corruption and dubious alliances with the corporate sector, the NUM itself seems to be losing control of the situation. 

Ruling party aligned union losing grip on South Africa mining

Frik Els

8 October 2012

Between 80,000 and 100,000 miners, or almost 20% of the sector's workers in South Africa, are now on wildcat strikes that began more than a month ago.

South Africa's National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the country's largest, is struggling to maintain its control over the sector which it has long-dominated.

NUM is a pivotal part of the labour federation Cosatu which with the SA Communist Party and the African National Congress (ANC) form the so-called Tri-partite Alliance which have ruled the country since the end of Apartheid in 1994.

NUM's diminishing influence - blamed in part on its political affiliations and its perceived closeness to big business - is most striking at Impala Platinum's Rustenberg mine where its enrollment has dropped to 13% from 70% before.

Impala Platinum, the world's number two producer of the precious metal, is now attempting to terminate NUM's recognition agreement after its workforce defied NUM and engaged in a seven-week strike.

The miner has now entered into negotiations with the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) rather than NUM.

The battle between NUM and Amcu was a crucial component of the unrest at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine in August which led to the killing of 34 people at the hands of security forces.

The 22% pay increase which were subsequently given to Marikana miners, prompted workers at world number one platinum producer Amplats, gold giants Anglogold Ashanti and Gold Fields to make similar wage demands.

Workers at these mines were quickly followed by other gold companies, coal miners and iron ore workers. Anglo Platinum fired 12,000 striking workers for failing to attend disciplinary hearings on Friday.

Frans Baleni, the general secretary of NUM said in September the union is working hard "to prevent a jobs bloodbath," but that "anarchy is being rewarded" in the industry.

Globally South Africa is the fourth largest producer of iron ore, holds the same rank for annual gold production, is the number one in platinum output and holds fifth spot for steam coal.

Your Membership's No Good Here, NUM!

Greg Nicolson

Daily Maverick

9 October 2012

The National Union of Mineworkers has a rich history, from ending the job reservation system to producing South African leaders. But it's been dealt blow after blow this year and the most recent comes with statistics. There's a legitimacy crisis and the union needs to act fast.

In a letter dated 1 October, Impala Platinum told the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) it no longer has enough members to be recognised at the Rustenburg mine.

Implats said that since March many of its 28,000 employees had abandoned the union and it now represents only 13% of the workforce, down from a claimed 70%. That's far below the 50% plus one the NUM needs to maintain its recognition agreement. Impala has given it three months meet the quota or get out.

Shortly after, Mines Minister Susan Shabangu blamed Implats for the unprotected strikes that have spread through the mining industry. "Are they not responsible for what we are seeing today?" Cosatu, the NUM and the South African Communist Party (SACP) agreed.

"We reiterate what we said in the congress - that it is the mine employers in general and Impala bosses in particular who must take full responsibility for all the strikes that are spreading in the mining industry. Impala committed a grave error in offering an 18% increase to one category (miners) to the exclusion of the rest of the workers of Impala and, more seriously, outside the collective bargaining process," they said in a joint statement.

Impala witnessed a violent strike in January and February after it awarded miners, one category of the workforce, an 18% pay increase. Aggrieved by the selective pay hike, rock drill operators went on strike, followed by the rest of the employees. Most were subsequently dismissed, with 87% later rehired.

Throughout the process Impala maintained the pay rise was to match industry standards and while it wasn't part of the collective agreement, the NUM had agreed to the increase. Since the union failed to control its members, Impala has been hostile to its recognition.

The NUM's failure was clear for all to see: it said members should work; they refused. But the industrial action was stoked, said the NUM, by the new kid on the block, the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu).

During its recent rise, strikes have been marred by intimidation and violence, and some miners have lost their lives or been hospitalised for being linked to the NUM. There's no wonder NUM members are fleeing.

But since the Marikana strikes it's now apparent that people aren't blindly leaving the NUM against their will. Many are fed up with their salaries, tired of their living conditions, sick of unsafe work practices and suspicious of union leaders.

The ANC, Cosatu and the SACP are blaming Impala for causing the current unrest, but the Impala strike and Marikana tragedy are what triggered grievances that have been packed like gunpowder across the industry.

Since those grievances exploded, worker sentiment appears to have turned against the NUM.

Julius Malema's claims that the union's leaders are "stealing this gold from you" and "making millions from these mines" were dismissed by Cosatu. Yet to believe Malema's claims workers only have to look at Cyril Ramaphosa. He founded the union only to become one of the richest men in the country and sit on Lonmin Plc's board. His response to the tragedy at the platinum producer was seen as too little too late.

Many of the NUM's problems appear similar to those of the ANC. Deputy Secretary General Tshimane Montoedi recently warned that workers are joining the union to enrich themselves and officials being elected on networks of patronage. "Those are the tendencies that I am worried about. A new tendency where money plays a role in determining the leadership outcome. It is a serious cause of concern."

At the recent Cosatu Congress, General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi warned a "growing social distance between the union leaders and the membership" can mean workers' concerns go ignored.

"If we have a leadership that is so far removed from the realities of the working people then a danger may creep in that they do not take up issues that do not reflect them directly because they have a comfort in the status quo," he said.

Speaking in September, Vavi noted that miners "toil in the most wretched, unhealthy and dangerous conditions kilometres underground, for wages that come nowhere close to the value that their labour creates for their employers. The rock drill operatives at the centre of the (Marikana) dispute perform a more dangerous, unhealthy and difficult job than anyone else in the world. They face death every time they go down the shafts. Yet their monthly earnings are just R5,600!"

The failure of Cosatu and the NUM to improve these conditions makes them vulnerable to rival unions. They face a crisis of legitimacy that will be hard to overcome.

The NUM has been a post-Apartheid leadership factory, propelling members into the highest echelons of business and government, far from their roots. It's also connected to the ANC, which has had years to improve the wages and living conditions of miners and failed. Amcu isn't hampered by such a history.

The NUM has vowed to take Implats to court over the threat of rescinding the union's recognition. Reports say some members were literally forced to quit over the barrel of a gun.

NUM will also dispute the member verification process, which Implats carried out independently after continued roadblocks in dealing with NUM and Amcu. NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the union has risen above past challenges, such as the one from the Mouthpiece Workers Union, and will rise again.

But the crisis of legitimacy runs deep.

To repair some of the damage and build foundations for the future, Cosatu and the NUM need to help put an end to the ongoing killings and must achieve a favourable agreement in discussions with the Chamber of Mines.

The NUM must identify its own shortcomings and ask whether a new system of wage negotiations is needed, whether mining royalties benefit communities and how unions, companies and government can collaborate to improve the living conditions of mine workers.

The uprising across the mining sector shows that workers simply do not believe that the NUM represents their concerns. If it fails to act, and act fast, the union might find Implats is only the first company trying to show it the door.

Gold Fields no longer planning to evict miners


8 October 2012

Gold Fields will no longer apply for an eviction order to legally remove the 5000 miners from its KDC West hostels, the company said on Monday.

"We are no longer applying for the eviction order," spokesman Sven Lunsche said.

"We reached the agreement with [the National Union of Mineworkers] that the miners should disarm. That was the reason for the eviction and now that the majority have been disarmed we feel that it is fair enough to halt the legal process."

However, he warned if they took up arms again the process would have to continue.

"But for now it is calm at the hostel."

Workers at the West Rand mine have been on strike for 29 days and are demanding a monthly pay of R12,500 after deductions.

Last week, the miners gathered on a hill off mine property as the word spread that they might be evicted.

On Wednesday, miners thought they were being evicted after receiving a notice from management.

They thought the notice was an eviction order, but Lunsche said the application for an eviction order was yet to be processed by the High Court in Pretoria.

What the workers had received was a sheriff's notice requesting reasons why they should not be evicted.

Lunsche said then the mine wanted the miners living in hostels evicted because of safety concerns.

Hostels were becoming a "hot-bed of violence" where petrol bombs were being made and plans for illegal action were being drawn up.

However, some miners on the hill, who began streaming down towards the hostel after getting the notice, wanted to gather their belongings.

Security guards stationed at the entrance gates to the hostels were confiscating weapons and searching cars.

On Wednesday evening, Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and NUM president Senzeni Zokwana addressed the miners on the hill.

They told the crowd all CEOs of gold-producing mines would meet the two unions the following day to discuss the need to reopen wage negotiations.

They also said after a meeting with Gold Fields' CEO Nick Holland earlier in the day that it was agreed the strikers should go back to the mine hostels under the condition they disarm.

Later on Wednesday night, NUM announced that wage negotiations in the gold and coal mining industries would reopen under an agreement reached in a meeting in Johannesburg between the Chamber of Mines, NUM, Solidarity, and UASA.

"The chamber agreed to negotiate... [an] increase for entry level workers, [and] adjustment or upgrading for operators, which includes rockdrill operators...," NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said in a statement.

However, Lunsche said on Monday the company had not heard anything from the union.

"We are waiting for the NUM to present the framework agreement to workers at our mines to get them back to work."

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