Striking workers at Lonmin’s South African platinum mines where 44 died last month in a labour strife say they will not return to work until their demand for more pay is met, the leader of a key union said.
Workers are facing a Monday deadline to return to the Lonmin PLC mines paralysed by a four-week strike that has sent company shares plummeting, raised world platinum prices and stoked worries of labour unrest spreading through the mining sector of Africa’s largest economy.
“When the employer is prepared to make an offer on the table, we shall make ourselves available,” Joseph Mathunjwa, president of Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), told a news conference on Friday.
Mathunjwa was responding to his union’s decision not to sign a “peace accord” with its rival National Union of Mines (NUM) and the mine’s management on Thursday.
While AMCU says it represents about 7,000 workers, Mathunjwa, told reporters that he supported the workers but could not speak on their behalf, according to local media reports.
Negotiations on the wage demand will begin on Monday. Gideon du Plessis, general secretary of Solidarity, one of the unions that have signed the accord said that all parties involved, including AMCU and representatives of the striking workers, have been invited to the negotiations.
“Solidarity now appeals to the striking workers to comply with the requirements for the negotiations, namely to lay down their arms and to return to work by Monday, so that their demand could be addressed.”
On Friday, Lonmin said two per cent of shift workers reported to their posts. Miners have said they have been threatened by striking miners with death if they go back into the shafts.
About 3,000, mostly rock drill operators, of Lonmin’s 28,000 South African workforce walked off their jobs. They were demanding a monthly base pay of 12,500 rand ($1,500), which is double current wages and an amount analysts said the financially strapped company cannot afford.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party of South Africa and its alliance partners said that mining companies were to blame for stirring up union rivalries at the heart of the violent strike.
In a joint statement released on Friday, the alliance partners said various companies and employers were guilty of “fanning up conflict between the unions and thus, conflict amongst the workers themselves”.
It noted that similar union rivalries earlier this year at Implats platinum mine ended with the mine firing all workers and selectively rehiring some on less preferential conditions.
“It is therefore our considered view that employers have an interest in fanning this conflict to reverse the gains achieved by workers over a long period of time,” the alliance partners said.
They also said the country’s platinum industry of following “the story of the power and belief in divide and rule”.
The statement did not however respond to accusations by the striking miners’ that shop stewards or NUM representatives were “cozying up to management” and that leaders of the union are putting politics before shop-floor problems of its members.
The NUM is a cornerstone union of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), also part of the ruling alliance, and its leaders are spearheading President Jacob Zuma’s bid for re-election as president of the ANC, which would guarantee him another five-year term as president of Africa’s richest nation.
Zuma and officials have cautioned against apportioning blame before a judicial commission of inquiry appointed by the president issues its findings.
That inquiry was to report by January but has been delayed by differences over its wide-ranging terms of reference.
Lawyers hired to represent the South African Human Rights Commission and some victims and their families indicated on Friday that it may need much more time.
Zuma said last week that the state of the mines and the plight of mineworkers will be discussed at the ANC’s December national congress.
The last such ANC meeting was marked by calls, led largely by its expelled youth leader, Julius Malema, for the mines to be nationalised as the only way to equitably share the country’s rich resources.
Malema has been very vocal about his support for the striking miners. Speaking at various mines he has called on the miners to make the mines “ungovernable” and to continue striking until their demands for $1,500 wage are met.
On Wednesday, Solidarity, which largely represents white, skilled workers, laid charges of incitement to public violence and intimidation against Malema at a police station near Pretoria, after violence broke out at a gold mine, Gold Fields KDC East in Johannesburg.
While the secretary general of COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi, is anti-Zuma, he said that the violence at the Lonmin mine reflects general anger over poverty and inequality in country of a population of 48 million people.
“We have warned over and over again that South Africa is sitting on a ticking bomb … the recent Marikana mine massacre was an exploding bomb, sending an alarm signal to us all, saying ‘Wake up, do something about this situation,'” Vavi said at the annual summit of the National Economic Development and Labour Council.
Zuma rival Cyril Ramaphosa, a former leader of the NUM has shares in the London-registered Lonmin PLC.