Justice eludes Marikana miners a year after massacrePublished by MAC on 2013-09-01
Source: Daily Maverick, Bloomberg, Reuters, Mining.com (2013-08-15)
Previous article on MAC: South Africa: little sign of end to mine labour strife
Justice eludes Marikana miners a year after massacre
Paul Burkhardt, Amogelang Mbatha & Mike Cohen
15 August 2013
Mzoxolo Magidiwane hobbled on a crutch down the gravel path to his home past the hill where he was shot seven times a year ago when South African police fired on striking mineworkers in their most lethal use of force since the end of apartheid.
"Nothing has changed for this place, for these people," Magidiwane, 25, said at his one-room corrugated-iron shack in the Nkaneng shantytown at Lonmin Plc's Marikana platinum complex, where the violence took place on Aug. 16, 2012. "The truth needs to be known so justice can be done."
No one has been charged in the deaths of 34 people and the wounding of 78. A judicial inquiry into the violence has stalled because victims and their families can't afford to pay for lawyers. Disputes continue over wages at the mine, where three days ago a female shop steward was shot dead.
In the immediate aftermath of the killings, criticism focused on the police and President Jacob Zuma's government and prompted Fitch Ratings, Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service to downgrade South Africa for the first time since the end of white minority rule in 1994. South Africa has the world's largest known reserves of platinum and chrome.
Johannesburg-based Lonmin, the world's third-largest platinum producer, lost about $170 million worth of output when the mine was shut from a walkout from Aug. 10 to Sept. 20. Its share price fell 19 percent during the period.
A judicial commission of inquiry appointed by Zuma a week after the violence was scheduled to end its investigation and produce a final report within five months. The body isn't close to concluding its work.
"It seems to me that a year later, not only those who were immediately affected by the shooting but all of us as a nation still haven't found closure," said Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst at the Johannesburg-based Helen Suzman Foundation.
The violence at Marikana, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, erupted during a fight for the right to represent mineworkers between the National Union of Mineworkers, which is allied to Zuma's ruling African National Congress, and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which has displaced the NUM as the biggest labor group in the platinum industry.
"It's not about NUM or AMCU; it's about money," Magidiwane said in the Xhosa language as the electricity at his home flickered on and off. From a shoe box he produced a copy of his letter of employment showing a 4,250 rand ($428) monthly salary.
Magidiwane, who got a job with Lonmin in 2011 to transport oxygen tanks to miners underground, had been on strike a year ago with thousands of workers to demand more than a doubling of wages.
In the week before the shootings, 10 people were killed at the mine, including two police officers and two security guards. On Aug. 16, police trying to disperse protesters opened fire on a crowd and later said they were acting in self-defense after coming under attack from people armed with machetes, pistols and spears.
New wage talks in the platinum industry are set to start over the next two months. AMCU has already asked gold companies for a basic wage for underground workers of 12,500 rand, identical to the increase it asked for at Lonmin last year, before the killings.
"We believe a new but volatile order for labor relations is developing in South Africa's mining sector," Mark Rosenberg, an Africa analyst for New York-based consultancy Eurasia Group, said in an Aug. 7 note. "Government efforts to stabilize the sector through pacts have failed, while law enforcement is constrained by the legacy of last year's massacre."
If the commission, headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Ian Farlam, can complete its work, that can help bring stability to the mining industry, according to Lonmin.
"The outcome of that process is important for all of us to understand how we can make sure that doesn't happen ever again," Natascha Viljoen, Lonmin's head of processing, said in an interview on Aug. 8. "We are concerned that Farlam is taking a bit of time."
Zuma, in a statement yesterday commemorating the anniversary, said the mining industry is vital to the economy, Africa's biggest.
"It is therefore necessary that all stakeholders work together to stabilize the mining sector and strengthen it to withstand the current difficult global economic conditions," he said.
The commission started with a budget of 25 million rand and testimony is interpreted in three of the local languages -- Xhosa, Sesotho and Tswana -- for victims' families, some of whom have traveled hundreds of miles from the Eastern Cape province to attend the hearings.
"I've lost faith in the integrity of the commission because it seems the police are favored over the miners who died and those who survived," Xolani Mzuza, 27, the only income earner from a family of four who survived the Aug. 16 shooting, said in an interview in Marikana. "Our lawyers have not been paid, but those representing the police and army are paid for by the government."
The hearing was moved to Pretoria, the capital, in June after it was delayed repeatedly because the Rustenburg Civic Centre where they were scheduled to be held was often unavailable. It has been suspended since July 22 when a lawyer for the families petitioned the commission for a postponement so he could seek money to pay for the families' legal fees.
"There hasn't been a single cop who was actually there who has been interviewed and cross-examined at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry," Bonita Meyersfeld, a law professor who heads the University of Witwatersrand's Centre for Applied Legal Studies, said in an interview.
"There has been harassment of witnesses. The community has lost faith in it," she said. "I think that's an out and out failure."
--Editors: Karl Maier, Nasreen Seria
Marking the anniversary of two mining massacres: So much remains the same
By Khadija Patel
14 August 2013
This Friday marks the first anniversary of the Marikana massacre, when 34 men were killed after police opened fire on striking mineworkers near Lonmin PLC's mine in the North West province. And while preparations to mark the first anniversary of the massacre have been fraught with bickering between rival unions, this week also marks the anniversary of another mining strike massacre in South Africa.
In August 1946, the African Mineworkers Union, one of the SA's first-ever trade unions, embarked on a strike against the Chamber of Mines. The strike was met with the full force of the state, who were described to have launched war against the striking workers. That strike would go on to rattle the complacency with which black mine workers were exploited in the country's mines. It proved to be a pivotal moment in the history of industrial relations in South Africa.
One worker who addressed a crowd of 100,000 mine workers at Market Square in Newtown is reported to have said, "When I think of how we left our homes in the reserves, our children naked and starving, we have nothing more to say. Every man must agree to strike on 12 August. It is better to die than go back with empty hands."
"We on the mines are dead men already," one elderly miner retorted to caveats of the anticipated violence.
On 12 August 1946, some 60,000 miners went on strike. The state spared no effort at suppressing the industrial action.
Nine people are officially listed as casualties of the crackdown on the strike. That number is said to be a gross understatement of the reality of the brutality with which the strike was put down.
The government is said to have been "almost on a war footing" against the striking workers.
Their demand was for the Chamber of Mines to bridge the gap between the wages of blacks and whites on the mines. Striking workers demanded 10 shillings a day, but their demands were silenced by police and army personnel who even chased striking workers down mine shafts.
According to South African History Online, the 1946 strike "had profound repercussions, which are felt until this day".
Workers' organisations and nascent trade unions were persecuted by the state.
"The most profound result of the strike, however, was the impact it had on the political thinking within the national liberation movement; almost immediately it shifted significantly from a policy of concession to more dynamic and militant forms of struggle," SA History Online says.
It is in Marikana that the 1946 strike echoed strongly last year.
And it is here in Marikana that the conditions that sent workers to strike then are still a reality today, with some differences, of course.
"Deaths are still occurring, the mines have still not addressed many of their (corporate social responsibility) promises and we have still not come to the bottom of what actually happened on that fateful day," executive director of the Benchmarks Foundation, John Capel, said about Marikana in a statement this week.
His assessment of Marikana sought to clarify what Marikana is like today, compared to what it was a year ago.
For Capel, the threat of another uprising, another revolt, more trouble, looms large in Marikana.
"We continue to walk on a knife's edge in Marikana."
His fears are not ill-founded.
This week it emerged that another person had fallen victim to the vicious turf war being waged between the National Union of Mineworkers and newcomers, AMCU. Already several people have died in the battle for ascendancy at the Lonmin mine.
When the strike in Marikana spread to mines across the country last year, it became apparent that beyond the narrative of a defeated Julius Malema currying favour with mineworkers and unions fighting for their survival, it is the conditions of the lives of the workers who drive the mining sector in South Africa that is at the centre of the anger and desperation.
This is the struggle for dignity.
Struggle hero Monty Naicker, in his description of the living and working conditions of mineworkers that precipitated the 1946 strike, quotes Sol Plaatjie: "Two hundred thousand subterranean heroes who, by day and by night, for a mere pittance, lay down their lives to the familiar 'fall of rock' and who, at deep levels, ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 feet in the bowels of the earth, sacrifice their lungs to the rock dust which develops miners' phthisis and pneumonia."
Much has improved in the working conditions of workers on South Africa's mines. Indeed, the reality of a legal union representation of workers is a far cry from 1946, when black mine workers were not afforded such rights. But the life of the average mineworker is still one of terrible hardship, shorn of dignity.
In Marikana, women complain that their young children cannot venture outside their shacks after dark - they will be raped, they say. In the sprawling informal settlements that house the community that in some way lives off the mine, people live without running water, electricity or refuse removal.
Those of us fortunate enough to be on the other side of mining production, those of us with gold dangling in our ears and diamonds on our fingers, only know the products of the labour of mining. Any knowledge we think we have of the actual life of a mine worker, we've gleaned on a trip to Gold Reef City, where mining is hailed with such passion, it could as well be the pinnacle of human achievement.
We mark the first anniversary of the Marikana massacre this week. Those 34 people who were gunned down in the spray of bullets, the confusion of tear gas and a police force with an apparently dubious mandate, died for the same cause the miners died for in 1946: they all died in the struggle for dignity. DM
AMCU union officially replaces rival
14 August 2013
Union rivalries in South Africa's mining sector have hit a major turning point: Platinum-miner Lonmin has officially recognized the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) as the majority labour organization of its employees.
"It is excellent news for Lonmin, for our employees and for all our stakeholders," Ben Magara, CEO of the company said in a statement. "It has not been easy, and I would like to recognise the efforts of both our teams, AMCU and Lonmin."
The AMCU has a troubled history with Lonmin - this Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of a protest in which 34 workers were killed by police officers at the company's Marikana mine.
Lonmin had given a heads up to the former majority union - the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) - after the organization failed to recruit more members in July, South Africa's The New Age reports. NUM will have to cede its on-site offices to AMCU which represents 70% of unionised employees.
Joseph Mathunjwa, AMCU president, told The New Age that he does not expect the recognition to lead to any violence. The two groups have been competing for members - often violently - since last year.
Earlier this week a NUM representative was shot and killed in Marikana which some believe is an indication of an ongoing turf war. A NUM member was also murdered at the mine in June.
Otherwise, recognition is expected to avert strike action and open the way for wage talks in the coming weeks.
But pay negotiations between other companies and unions have proven extremely difficult.On Tuesday several leading unions rejected an offer by the Chamber of Mines to increase wages by 5.5%. Most labour representatives have been asking for at least a 50% wage increase.
Union leader killed at Lonmin's Marikana mine
12 August 2013
A National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) leader was gunned down Monday morning close to Lonmin's Marikana mine in South Africa, the same place where last year's violent strike started after police killed more than 34 striking miners.
The victim, reports AFP, a female union official in her 50s, is presumed to be the latest casualty of a deadly battle for supremacy between rival unions at the platinum mine, which has led to several shootings over the past year.
Lonmin's shares dropped for the first time in three days, losing 2.4% percent to 342.10 pence by 8:28 a.m. ET.
Machines can end platinum mine strife - ex Lonmin CEO
2 August 2013
LONDON - South Africa's loss-making platinum industry should have pushed through mechanisation of mines years ago to avert its current problems with restive unions and soaring wage demands, the former boss of miner Lonmin said.
Brad Mills, chief executive of South Africa's third-largest platinum producer until 2008, said firms had to start the effort now or remain confronted by a large, highly unionised workforce.
"My view was, this is a 15-year process but you've got to get your head out of this trap," Mills said, "And the only way you're going to do it is to convert, mechanise, as painful as that might be."
Unlike coal and copper, transformed by automation and remotely controlled equipment, platinum mines remain labour intensive. The rock is drilled, blasted and cleared by men.
As chief executive from 2004, U.S.-born geologist Brad Mills, 59, led a push to take machines into Lonmin's narrow, sweltering shafts. But progress was slow, costs were steep and he was ousted in a boardroom coup.
His efforts were reversed and some mine analysts say the opportunity has now passed.
"Given what's happened it was exactly the wrong decision. The whole disaster they've had has been with the rock drill operators, which is the guys you get rid of when you mechanise," he told Reuters in an interview on Friday.
"Machines don't annually come up and want 15 percent more salary to do their job."
Profits at South Africa's platinum producers slid last year after a wave of strikes during which dozens of protesters were killed. Many companies are still struggling to resume generating cash, especially at a time of weaker prices for the metal used in autocatalysts and jewellery.
Mine companies are now locked in some of the toughest wage negotiations since the end of apartheid in 1994.
A new Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has emerged as the dominant union on the platinum belt and reflects a mood among many black workers that they have been denied an adequate share of mineral wealth.
Potential in West Africa
Mills now runs a private investment vehicle involved in copper, gold and iron ore ventures.
He admits it is a difficult time, with share prices across junior miners taking severe hits this year as commodity prices cool. But a period of lower prices for assets has allowed private investment ventures like his to get into the game.
Mills is CEO at Mandalay Resources, with gold mines in Chile and Australia, and President of Cameroon-focused iron ore company, West African Minerals.
West African Minerals will give early outlines of resources in two of its exploration zones before the end of the year, he said.
Although West Africa has long been viewed as the next major iron ore region, a slowdown in China, volatile commodity prices and difficulty in raising cash have put projects in the region on ice.
West African Minerals shares have lost 88 percent of their value since a peak in June last year.
But Mills still backs the region to become the next iron ore province, if not as soon as investors had expected.
"It's probably more likely that it will take longer and it will be smaller chunks, but you certainly can look out 10 to 15 years from now and see Cameroon producing 20-30 million tonnes of iron ore." That would be only 2 to 3 percent of current seaborne trade, but significant for the emerging region.
Not all the juniors will make it that far, according to Mills, and consolidation is inevitable. There is a possibility that a steel or iron ore major will move in, but West African Minerals is also watching out for acquisition opportunities.
"I feel a number of major players are watching the space quite carefully, but they're scared of showing interest because it will treble the price," he said.
"There's not a huge amount of urgency on their part."
The great hope remains that the Chinese will invest in African mines to escape reliance on big iron ore exporters, Vale, BHP Billiton, and Rio Tinto.
Mills thinks this is a strong possibility.
"What the Chinese desperately need is 100 million tonnes of offshore iron ore production so West Africa remains appealing." (Editing by Clara Ferreira-Marques and Anthony Barker)
Fresh wave of violence strikes South African mines: eight dead
30 July 2013
Seven illegal miners have died and 12 are seriously injured as a result of a clash between competing groups in a mine in Johannesburg's East Rand, South Africa.
According to The New Age, police were alerted Sunday of a violent fight involving guns at an underground shaft of the Brakpan North mine.
Rescue operations were still underway at the mine on Tuesday morning, and official sources said there is a high possibility the number of fatal victims will increase.
Meanwhile Reuters reports a miner was shot dead near Lonmin's Marikana mine, fuelling rumours of fresh labour tension in the platinum belt, which last year was the scenario of massive and violent strikes.
SA's Chamber of Mines declares dispute with AMCU
29 July 2013
JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's Chamber of Mines has declared a dispute with labour group AMCU in gold negotiations, a move aimed at placing wage talks for the entire sector before a government-affiliated mediator, it said on Monday.
"AMCU has rejected the gold producers' revised offer of a 5 percent increase in wages and benefits. The producers have indicated that they cannot accede to AMCU's demands, in respect of which AMCU has not moved at all in respect of its demands," the chamber said in a statement on behalf of gold producers.
The next step in the labour talks, billed as the most difficult since the end of apartheid in 1994, is for all parties to take the dispute to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for mediation.
Last week, three separate unions in the talks with the gold mining firms represented by the Chamber of Mines declared an official dispute, saying two weeks of talks had stalled and needed outside help.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Workers Union (AMCU), a militant union new to collective bargaining in the sector, did not join the other groups.
AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa criticised the gold firms and chamber for trying to force it into mediation with the other unions and said his labour group had been planning to hold a round of wage talks with the mining houses on Aug. 1.
"The Chamber of Mines from the onset never recognised AMCU as a bargaining agent. The Chamber of Mines is an architect of dividing workers," he told Reuters.
The wage talks are set against a backdrop of increased union militancy that has coincided with soaring costs and falling prices for gold.
Bullion producers are offering a wage increase of 5 percent, slightly below South Africa's 6 percent inflation rate and well short of the 60 to 100 percent pay hike demanded by workers.
South Africa's labour laws allow for wage disputes to be referred to an outside mediator. If that fails, employees are allowed to go on a legal strike.
Last week, the NUM, Solidarity and UASA unions, which will collectively approach a mediator, represent 73.6 percent of the 120,000 mineworkers employed by gold producers in pay negotiations, declared the official wage dispute. (Editing by David Evans)