Jump to main content
IndustriALL logotype
Article placeholder image

Murder of unionists condemned as labour unrest spreads in South Africa’s mines

11 October, 2012IndustriALL strongly condemns the murders of several shopfloor leaders belonging to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in this trying time for industrial relations in South Africa and amidst spreading labour unrest in the mining sector.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) reports that at Num’s Western Platinum branch, the secretary and chairperson were killed in separate targeted incidents and whilst a third branch leader escaped, his wife was killed. A relative of a NUM shop steward was also shot and killed at the shop steward’s home in what seems to be a case of mistaken identity. At another NUM branch, the chairperson was seriously injured after his house was torched and in the West Rand a shop steward was dragged from his room and shot at close range.
In a letter to NUM, IndustriALL General Secretary Jyrki Raina, expressed his shock and horror for what he describes as, “the spate of callous and cowardly murderous attacks on members of the NUM in the aftermath of the Marikana tragedy.”
Cosatu also reports that five Num members, two of them shop stewards, were killed in violence associated with a strike at Lonmin`s platinum mine in Marikana between 10-16 August, and of the 34 people shot dead by police on 16 August, 14 were NUM members. On 11 September, a third NUM shop steward, Dumisani Mthinti, was found hacked to death near the scene of this shooting.
“IndustriALL Global Union sends a message of condolence to the families, friends and fellow-workers of those that lost their lives and calls for the speedy arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators responsible for these chillingly brutal and barbaric acts of murder,” writes Raina. “We reiterate our unconditional solidarity support to the NUM in all its endeavours to resolve this most trying challenge to its admirable historic legacy of unstinting struggle for a better live for mineworkers and their families.”
According to current estimates, 80,000 to 100,000 platinum and gold miners are on strike, a consequence of negotiating the Lonmin settlement outside of the bargaining process, which has emboldened other workers, who face similar hardships to seek better wages and conditions and unprotected strikes have spread like wild fire. This is not a result of weakness in trade union representation but rather, of workers emotively and reactively pushing back on exploitation in the mining sector that has resisted transformation.  
Even with global scrutiny, some mining companies have remained business as usual in their approach to industrial relations. Anglo Platinum has been opportunistic, taking advantage of this trying time for labour to cut its workforce at its marginal Rustenburg operations. On 5 October, Anglo Platinum fired 12,000 workers engaged in an unprotected strike at its Rustenburg operations. 
Its motives for the pre-emptive suspensions of the Rustenburg operations on 11 September citing the current volatile situation in the area, which was in fact a lock out that encouraged the strike, are also questionable. Now the company laments publicly that the three week strike has meant huge revenue losses, but it does not speak of its savings on operating costs for the period and on workers bonuses that it will not need to pay. In the meantime, the supply constraint has meant that the price of platinum has risen while the rand has been weakened. All of this is good news for platinum producers including Anglo Platinum, increasing the profitability of the sector.