South Africa: ANC victory marred by miners’ strike

A bitter labour dispute between miners and the South African government has cast a shadow over the country’s general election, 20 years on from the fall of apartheid.

As the African National Congress (ANC) gears up to celebrate the re-election of President Jacob Zuma, more than 80,000 miners continued their three-month strike over pay and labour conditions.

The strike - one of the longest in South Africa’s recent history - comes less than two years after the massacre at Marikana platinum mine where 34 workers were killed following a violent confrontation between security forces and striking miners in 2012.

Happiness Mathenjwa, a 40-year-old miner at Marikana and employee of Lonmin, the world’s third biggest platinum producer, lives in a makeshift hut close to the site where many of his colleagues were killed 18 months ago.

Mathenjwa says miners like him live in extreme poverty and their working conditions have not improved since the massacre, despite receiving widespread international condemnation:

“We’re continuing to strike because we need money. We’ve been working hard but what we get at the end of the month is nothing but a mere minimum to get us back to work the following day. There is no progress, there is nothing you can do with such a salary.”

Mathenjwa, who is married with five children, earned 5000 rand (US$475) a month before the strike but has not been paid since the industrial action began on January 23.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) is calling for a basic wage offer of R12,500 (approximately US$1150) and has opposed an offer of a 10 per cent salary increase extended last month by producers Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin.

In a statement the union said: "Our members…resoundingly rejected the current employer offer and reiterated their original demand of R12,500 in four years."

However, the producers have sought to bypass the union by making their offer directly to the miners via phone message, and threatening to sack them if they don’t accept it.

 

“Irresponsible”

The mining companies say the strikes have cost them around R14.5 billion (US$ 1.4 billion) in revenue and the union’s demands have not been supported by the ruling ANC party.

On Monday President Zuma labelled the strikers “irresponsible”, calling for an end to industrial action.

“The strike has gone on too long. The strike is not helping workers," he said, “You can’t go on with a strike that at the end makes them lose their jobs.

In any negotiations, you must be ready to give and take. You must be ready to compromise."

Many miners are now turning instead to a new party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema who has been critical of the government’s handling of the Marikana massacre and the ongoing strikes.

More than 18 months after the massacre, the miners are still waiting for a government inquiry set up to investigate the cause of the massacre to publish its findings.

“With what happened when we lost our friends, when we lost our bothers I don’t think I would ever vote for the current ruling party which we have here in this country,” says Mathenjwa.

“Julius has been with us even before the formation of the EFF.

“We never had Zuma come down to come and address us, to speak to us or even sympathise with us. Instead when the vice president was sent he was sent to force us to take whatever is put on the table.”

The EFF is set to take third place in the general election with around 4 per cent of the vote, behind the Democratic Alliance (24 per cent) and the victorious ANC, which has polled over 60 per cent.