South African President Cyril Ramaphosa abandoned his Workers’ Day speech in the northwestern city of Rustenburg on Sunday when striking mineworkers stormed the stage.
The workers employed by the Sibanye-Stillwater mine are demanding a wage increase of 1,000 rands ($63) per month instead of the 850 rands ($54) being offered by the mine.
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Ramaphosa had decided to mark Workers’ Day, a public holiday in South Africa on May 1, by giving a speech to union members in Rustenburg, a mining centre.
The president was booed as he started his address with a call for the striking workers and other members of the Congress of South African Trade Unions to calm down and listen to what he had to say.
“We have heard that you want your 1,000 rands. We will deal with that matter,” Ramaphosa told the protesting workers.
Shortly after that Ramaphosa was forced to give up his speech altogether when angry miners stormed the field and overwhelmed the police surrounding the stage at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium. Ramaphosa’s security guards whisked him away from the venue.
The striking workers have become even angrier in recent days over reports that Sibanye-Stillwater’s CEO, Neal Froneman, earned more than 300 million rands ($19m) in 2021 in salary payments and company share schemes.
Rustenburg in the North West province is a tumultuous area for Ramaphosa and South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) party.
Many union members continue to blame them for the Marikana massacre, where 34 miners were shot dead by police during a strike at the Lonmin mine in 2012. Ramaphosa was a non-executive director of Lonmin at the time.
Sunday’s proceedings indicate the challenges that Ramaphosa, a founding member of COSATU and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), faces later this year in his effort to be re-elected head of the ANC. The unions are a key constituency of the party.