Miners killed while strikes spread to public sector
A series of wildcat and protected strikes have been occurring in South Africa over the last two months. Industrial actions have been taking place in the platinum, gold, iron ore and transportation sectors of the economy, Africa’s largest.
In response to the escalating labor unrest, the bosses at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) fired 12,000 of the 28,000 striking workers on October 5 after they had been off the job for several weeks. Management said that the workers were terminated when they refused to appear at a disciplinary hearing.
On October 4, Mtshunquleni Qakamba, 48, an Amplats employee, was killed when the police fired rubber bullets and teargas to break up a gathering of strikers. Amplats is the world’s largest producer of platinum.
Workers at the mines said they are determined to continue the struggle to regain their jobs with an increase in salaries. Representatives of the workers have also pledged to file murder charges against the police for the death of their colleague.
George Tyobeka, a worker representative at Amplats in Rustenburg said “What we want to do is open a case against the South African Police Services (SAPS). They shot against the people…until they killed one of our colleagues.” (iafrica.com/sa, October 8)
Tyobeka said that “Employees weren’t fighting they were just sitting on the hill.”
The death of Qakamba comes after the adjournment of a governmental commission of inquiry into the deaths of 46 miners in August at the Marikana mines owned by Lonmin Platinum. The workers at Marikana have returned to the job with a 22 percent wage increase.
Two other fatalities have been reported at Marikana on October 5 and 7. One of the dead was a shop steward for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the largest affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). This shop steward had reportedly participated in the commission of inquiry.
NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said of the killing of a NUM representative that “An unemployed cousin…of an NUM shop steward was shot and killed last night (Saturday) at the shop steward’s house in what is reported to be a case of mistaken identity. According to the friend who was seated on a chair at the time the incident happened, gunmen appeared from nowhere at the Marikana hostel and immediately shot the steward’s cousin….” (iafrica.com, sa, October 8)
Seshoka concluded that “From the manner in which the secretary of the branch was killed it is clear that the killers were ready for some time. The poor leader was reportedly shot by seven bullets. This is clearly no longer about wages but a clear attack on the NUM, COSATU, and its members.”
NUM leaders have also accused Amplats of racism. Seshoka said that a group of union representatives were called derogatory names by security officials at the mines.
Seshoka also charged that Amplats bosses have thwarted efforts by the NUM to resolve the strike. Worker representatives at Amplats were scheduled to meet with management on October 8.
Strikes May Spread to Ports, Railways and Public Sector
In additional industries within the economy, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) have continued their strike. Over 20,000 truckers have refused to deliver oil, fruits and other important commodities for more than two weeks.
The truckers are demanding a 12 percent pay hike. The bosses’ group, the Road Freight Employers’ Association, was scheduled to meet SATAWU representatives in court on October 8.
In addition to the truckers, port and railway workers have also threatened to strike. Vincent Masoga, spokesperson for SATAWU, indicated that the union had applied to” the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration in order to expand the strike to the ports and railways. “(South African Press Association, October 8)
In addition to these developments, public sector workers represented by the South African Municipal Workers Union (SMAWU) are threatening to strike. Tahir Sema, spokesperson for SAMWU, said that “The union is mobilizing towards a national protest, which would begin as soon as this week.” (Reuters, October 8)
If a decision to strike is made, 190,000 civil servants would walk off the job. The workers are demanding what they call “market-related salaries.”
The wave of strike activity, both wildcat and official, has caused problems within the South African economy. The currency, the rand, dropped to a three year low on October 8.
Mohammed Nalla, an economic analyst for Nedbank Capital in Johannesburg, said that “International investors are really quite concerned about South Africa. Structurally and fundamentally, the outlook on the rand is deteriorating.” (Reuters, October 8)
The worldwide economic crisis has impacted capitalist economies throughout the globe. Bankers and industrialists are pressuring governments to impose pay and benefit cuts resulting in austerity.
Workers have responded in Europe through general strikes in Greece and Spain. In Indonesia a general strike was held during the first week in October.
At present in South Africa over 100,000 workers are involved in strikes throughout the country. Until their demands are met these work stoppages will continue.
By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor, Pan-African News Wire