JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Management was to blame for the unrest that engulfed South Africa’s third-largest platinum producer Lonmin’s Marikana mine, in the North West province, over the weekend, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) president Joseph Mathunjwa said on Tuesday.
AMCU, which has been accused of implementing a forceful and violent approach in recruiting new members, said that the media portrayed the recent deadly spate of mine violence near Rustenburg as being a result of a rivalry between Amcu and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). But Mathunjwa said this was not the case.
Speaking at a press briefing in Kempton Park, he said that Lonmin’s middle management – against the advice of AMCU – engaged rockdrill operators (RDOs) amid rumours that the employees were demanding salary adjustments independently of recognised unions in July.
Mathunjwa claimed that AMCU advised the mine to hold an emergency coordinated meeting between the recognised unions to deal with the issue before it produced a similar incident to what transpired at Impala Platinum’s (Implats’) Rustenburg mine in February.
AMCU stated while about 3 000 RDOs were marching to hand over a memorandum of demands to Lonmin management, some of its members alleged that people “dressed in NUM T-shirts and emerging from NUM offices” had opened fire, killing one worker and injuring others on Friday.
This then sparked the violence over the weekend that led to the death of eight more people, including two policemen, and injuring many more.
NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka denied these allegations, claiming that AMCU was fully responsible for the events that occurred.
“AMCU is not a union, it is a criminal organisation,” he accused.
Seshoka added that it was NUM members and nonunionised employees that were attacked, killed and injured and that it was pure criminality – not rivalry.
“We do not believe that violence can bring about change in the workplace or benefit anyone,” reiterated Mathunjwa, adding that it had operated peacefully and successfully in other sectors, without reports of violence, throughout its member offices, for the past 12 years.
AMCU pointed out that, while it may hold a majority membership at the mining company’s Karee mine, which led Lonmin to agree to confer limited organisational rights on AMCU to reflect its membership position, NUM still held the majority membership across Lonmin’s mines.
The rivalry between AMCU and NUM was also blamed for the six-week strike and resultant violence that claimed four lives and injured more than 50 at Implats in February.
Further, Mathunjwa claimed that the violence that occurred at Aquarius Platinum’s Khwezi shaft, near Rustenburg, earlier this month, that left five workers dead and many more injured, was allegedly at the hands of mine security and police.
This followed the dismissal of about 400 shaft workers who intended joining AMCU.
However, Aquarius previously reported that about 200 people, some of whom were armed, forced their way onto the mine property. They were understood to be former employees of the mine's mining contractor, who were dismissed following illegal strike action in June.
Mathunjwa also alleged that Aquarius placed its Everest mine on care and maintenance because the company was “scared” of AMCU, and that the company claimed the union was intimidating and violent.
“Without laying blame, we suspect that sinister forces are behind this,” he said, pointing to NUM with its intensive “reclaiming Lonmin back” campaign, which he believed involved top African National Congress officials badmouthing and urging workers to rejoin NUM.
He also accused the platinum industry of being “in bed” with NUM, and protecting the union when it loses ground.
“We call on the platinum industry to accept the reality that AMCU is one of the major stakeholders that need to be respected, accommodated and learn to work with it,” he stressed, adding that the party represented the needs of its members and remained apolitical.
Trade union Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis stated on Tuesday that “decisive intervention” was needed in the platinum sector.
“Formal collective bargaining forums must be created with strict guidelines determining, among others, that all collective bargaining processes only take place within the collective bargaining structures and in accordance with the guidelines for collective bargaining.”
He noted in a statement that, should a trade union act outside of these guidelines, its recognition must be suspended on a first offence and withdrawn if repeated.
Du Plessis added that the application of union recognition thresholds for the mining industry must also be revisited, as they excluded other unions.
“Solidarity is also of the opinion that the Registrar of Trade Unions should obtain more powers from the Department of Labour to suspend the registration of a trade union in cases such as AMCU, where a pattern of violence and unlawful behaviour and conduct has developed,” he said.
Meanwhile, NUM noted that while the situation at Lonmin’s mine was still tense, the violence had eased. But, it continued to call for the intervention of the South African National Defence Force.
Solidarity appealed to Lonmin to dismiss workers involved in the violence at its mine and demanded that employees who have engaged in criminal deeds be criminally prosecuted.