Key players refuse to sign deal to end S.Africa mine strike

September 6, 2012 11:27 am
South Africa miners being addressed/FILE

, South Africa, Sept 6 – A South African union and holdout miners on Thursday rejected a deal with platinum giant Lonmin, stalling efforts to end a deadly strike that has rattled the industry and stirred political dissent.

Three weeks to the day after police shot dead 34 miners at the Marikana mine in the worst case of police violence since the end of apartheid, a solution to the salary dispute was still not forthcoming.

Management of the Lonmin mine inked an agreement in the early hours of Thursday with the main unions to end the illegal strike that started in August.

But non-unionised workers and a key union whose agreement is essential to ending the action have refused to sign up.

“We cannot agree to sign that thing. It shows once you sign the workers must resume work. But we know the workers won’t return,” said non-unionised workers’ representative Zolisa Bodlani of the “peace accord”.

Mediator Bishop Jo Seoka said a key union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) also refused to go along.

“AMCU, the union that is new in that sector, was not willing to sign the peace accord,” Seoka told AFP.

On Thursday, spring rains and hail kept the non-unionised workers from meeting to discuss the deal outside the mine.

Malizo, 29, a rock drill operator, said he wouldn’t return underground until the company agreed to a payrise to 12,500 rands ($1,479, 1,182 euros), nearly triple what the miners claim to earn currently.

“I am still waiting for the report from people who went to the (peace talks) meeting. If they come with the right thing, that Lonmin sends the money, we go back to work. If they don’t we stay home,” he told AFP.

Police were called in and shot dead 34 people on August 16, days after clashes between workers had left 10 dead.

Critics say the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and allied unions have lost touch with poor South Africans, in a country with gaping inequality 18 years after the end of white minority rule.

On Monday, Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu lambasted President Jacob Zuma’s government.

“Please, please, please, come to your senses. Marikana felt like a nightmare, but this is what our 2012 democracy has become,” he said at an event.

Meanwhile youth firebrand Julius Malema has also capitalised on the strikes by calling on Zuma to resign. Malema has traveled to other mines with disputes in the past few weeks and incited workers to abandon their unions.

The expelled leader of the ANC Youth League was due to attend a Pretoria court case on Thursday where the last of 270 people arrested at the strikes were to be released.

Prosecutors on Monday dropped murder charges against them and released 162. All had been charged for the deaths of their own companions, but now face public violence charges.

Negotiations to get everyone on board the peace deal would continue Thursday, though it was unclear if there would be meetings, Seoka said.

“The effort today will be to try to get the strikers to sign… Tomorrow people are traveling for funerals, so it has to be done some time today.”

The agreement did not give a date for miners to return to work, but powerful union NUM, which is close to the ruling party and has signed the document, said it hoped they could be back on the job on Monday.

“What we have done is agreed to a commitment to peace at Marikana. Once there is a commitment to peace, people can go back to work freely,” said spokesman Lesiba Seshoka.

In a statement the union also urged Amcu and other workers to join the agreement.

“Not being part of the accord sends a wrong message to the workforce, a message of divisions and lack of common purpose.”

The company on Thursday said it would discuss the wage demands, after staunchly refusing to broach the subject before the peace accord was signed.

“We simply ask that those negotiations happen in an environment free of intimidation and violence,” said acting CEO Simon Scott.

Some South African newspapers have described the Marikana shooting and its aftermath as a watershed in the country’s post-apartheid history and suggested the nation was on the brink of a “mining revolution”.

Mining represents roughly a fifth of GDP and observers have voiced concern that strikes and dissent could spread to the entire industry and undermine Africa’s largest economy.


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