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South Africa: A Possible Way Out of the Marikana Stand-Off?

South African miners
South Africa’s mining strike is now spreading

Lonmin management and the striking Marikana workers agreed Wednesday to sit down and negotiate. Not a moment too soon either, as the strikes have spread to Anglo Platinum and the discovery of a new dead body ratcheted the tensions up considerably.

Previous efforts to bring an end to the stand-off between striking miners and Lonmin PLC were failures – the company kept insisting that people go back to work, and the miners were having none of it as long as there was no wage negotiation put on the table. A peace accord between the company, workers and union was a flop because the workers didn’t sign it.

Now, a representative of the workers said they wanted the company to put a figure on the table, even if it is not the R12,500 previously demanded.

A meeting between Lonmin and representatives of the striking miners has been scheduled for Thursday morning at 10:00. It will be an opportunity for the company to find closure by wrestling the demanded figure down to a level that is acceptable for all concerned. Worker representative Zolisa Bodlani said a wage negotiation had to be prioritised on the agenda of the meeting, and not the peace accord.

Workers are demanding that Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, National Police Commissioner Mangwashi Phiyega and North West Police Commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo be present during negotiations on the peace accord.

The possible break came after a body was discovered near the place where the miners meet. On Tuesday, after marching to the nearby Andrew Saffy Memorial Hospital, the returning men discovered the body. According to an eyewitness who saw it, it was of a middle-aged man with two lacerations to the neck. There was no blood at the spot where the body was found. “The body was still very fresh when it was found,” he said.

On Wednesday, the miners marched to a nearby smelting operation belonging to Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) to demand it close.

Earlier, leaders of the strike promised that by Monday, there would not be a single functioning operation in the Rustenburg area as workers from other companies would join the Marikana strike.

Amplats did announce the temporary closure of its Rustenburg operations, but only to protect the workers who were reporting for duty.

Some news outlets had reported Amplats workers were on strike, but Chris Griffith, the company’s CEO, said in a statement, “Our employees are not on strike. However, in light of the current volatile situation in the Rustenburg area, where our employees, who want to go to work, are being prevented from doing so and are being intimidated by the threat of violence, Anglo American Platinum has decided to suspend its operations in the Rustenburg area with immediate effect. The suspension will continue until such time as operations can be safely resumed.”

Amplats Chairwoman Cynthia Carroll said the company was speaking to the government and recognised unions to resolve the situation as soon as possible.

“We have taken this decision to suspend our operations in order to help ensure the safety of our employees – our absolute priority,” she said.

“Our people want to work and it is unacceptable that they are not able to go to work safely and instead are facing considerable intimidation.”

The miners have promised to go back to work by midday Thursday if Lonmin made an acceptable offer to them. The meeting could still prove fruitless, as the company announced back when the wildcat strike began that it wasn’t on the firmest of financial grounds, which could mean that the offer put on the table may be far too short of R12,500. But the miners will be aware of the fact that some of them could lose their jobs if they insist on a very high figure, forcing the company to shrink the size of the workforce. Hopefully the unity they’ve shown for almost a month now will prevail on the negotiation table, so that they ensure that no-one end up losing their jobs.

If too many people get sacked, it will simply keep the outrage going in Marikana. Nothing would have been solved.

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