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South Africa: (Updated) Marikana Lonmin workers win 22% wage rise, but the struggle for justice goes on


Amandla! editorial

September 20, 2012 -- Amandla! -- A heroic struggle has tasted its first victory. The reported wage settlement with the mineworkers at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine -- site of the terrible August 16 massacre of workers by police -- of R11, 000 is a massive victory, nothing less than the murder and sacrifice of so many workers dictated.

With an unholy alliance of Lonmin bosses, the bosses of the entire platinum sector, the army, police, government and even the leadership of the South African Communist Party and the pro-government National Union of Mineworkers rangeed against them, Lonmin workers can turn from their wage struggle to the struggle for justice with enormous pride and their dignity restored. This struggle has already rewritten the history of the international labour movement. In the eyes of the world, Marikana is not a place but an expression that workers' struggle -- class struggle -- is not yesterday's language and ideology, but lives in the struggles of the exploited and oppressed from below who continue to fight the good fight.

Lonmin workers faced an unholy alliance because their struggle simultaneously struck, like a pick through ice, at the elite social contract constructed around monopoly capital, parasitic BEE ["black economic empowerment"] deals and bureaucratised labour elites -- a social contract that has seen South Africa become the most unequal country in the world.

This massive victory for a living wage must not be paid for by more use of subcontracting or reduction of the labour force. It should be paid for by a reduction in the grotesque remuneration of top management and by lowering the dividends to shareholders.

Let this victory mark the first step to stop the ruthless super exploitation of South African workers.

One blow will not unfreeze the stunted politics of elite-pacting. Others now have to pick up the batons of the Marikana Lonmin workers even as their struggle for justice and accountability continues. Solidarity must be mobilised so that all those complicit in the post-apartheid brutal massacre are brought to justice.

A new path for South Africa will only result from the combined efforts of many grassroots militant struggles. The Marikana Lonmin workers have shown what is possible. Many community struggles are equally heroic if not as dramatic as the Marikana struggle. They need to flow together in an unstoppable torrent that can wash away the muck of inequality and injustice that still prevails almost two decades after the end of apartheid!

Long live the Marikana Lonmin workers – long live!

An injury to one is an injury to all!

Democratic Left Front: 'Defend the right to strike!'

September 17, 2012 -- In the view of the Democratic Left Front (DLF), the crackdown by soldiers and police in Marikana represents a serious escalation of authoritarian repression against the working class by the African National Congress (ANC) government. It has declared a de facto state of emergency in the mining sector.

Statements by South Africa's [ANC] president Jacob Zuma on September 13 and since by other ministers and ANC leaders threaten to stop “illegal gatherings, incitement and threats of violence”. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe speaks of the existence of “anarchy”. We are told that the “full might of the law” will be used to curb further unrest. The further use of live ammunition has not been ruled out by police spokespeople. There is talk of “illegal strikes” when no strikes are illegal in South Africa. They are simply protected or unprotected. The talk further delegitimises unprotected strikes.

The ANC government is now talking like the hated apartheid regime. It is openly declaring itself anti-working class. It wants instead to protect the interests of foreign mining bosses like those of Lonmin in the brutal exploitation of cheap labour-brokered labour. It is the same protection for foreign investors that is behind the decision for prospecting for [coal-seam gas] fracking in the Karoo to go ahead, without any adequate scientific justification.

The ANC government, put into power by the votes of working people, is threatening the right to strike, an absolute right won by the workers in our struggle for democracy and a decent life for all. The talk of “illegal gatherings” is a threat to freedom of assembly. The police are wrongly interpreting the powers given them in Section 9 of Act 205 of 1995, which are not meant to prohibit gatherings but to prevent serious harm once a gathering has taken place.

Under this government, officials of the national, provincial and local state are filthy with corruption. But the ANC government has not set the police to root this out. Instead it tolerates corruption, and demands that the police attack the working class.

Zuma attacks people who “instigate miners to operate in a particular way”. This hardly veiled attack on Julius Malema is a convenient way of threatening anyone who supports the demands of the mineworkers on strike at Marikana and elsewhere.

The ANC crackdown undermines collective bargaining. It cuts across the beginnings of progress made on the negotiation front, where Lonmin has begun making offers of wage increases (pitiful as yet) to the striking workers. Will workers be allowed to meet to decide whether to accept offers made to them by the mining companies?

It is incumbent on the working class and all democrats to defend the right to strike! The ANC government wants to drive mineworkers back to work without winning their demands. But they will not succeed! The strength of the working class will triumph over the authoritarian ANC government!

As the DLF, we demand:

• Call the military back to barracks! Withdraw police from the platinum belt!
• Arrest all police involved in the murder of Marikana workers!
• Release and drop all charges against arrested mineworkers!
• R12,500 wage for mineworkers!
• An end to state intimidation and harassment of the Marikana workers, their families and communities;
• Delivery of housing and public services to the Marikana communities and all mining communities in South Africa;
• Compensation to the workers for violence endured at the hands of the police. 

Marikana — and South Africa’s frayed social fabric

By Terry Bell

September 22, 2012 -- Terry Bell Writes -- The mayhem at Marikana cast the spotlight on the platinum sector and on mining in general.  And while the concentration was on wages, a myriad other issues emerged, some all too briefly — and not the least of them the living conditions endured by many miners, 18 years after the transition from apartheid.

The utilitarian single sex hostels of that era still exist and shack “farms” comprising single room hovels without any amenities and rented out at between R500 and R800 a month have mushroomed around mine properties.  These are issues that are as much at the root of the recent troubles as inadequate wages.

So too is the fact that traditional authorities among the Bafokeng actively resist the provision of amenities such as potable water and sanitation, fearing that this will encourage permanent settlements for miners, mainly from the Eastern Cape.  And many of the migrant workers living in these abysmal conditions are also unemployed, some laid off as recently as last year.  They remain, increasingly desperate, hoping, almost against hope, that they will eventually find work.

It is against this background that the 22 per cent pay rise agreement struck at Lonmin seems to have been met with an almost unanimous sigh of relief, along with the expressed belief that the solution had been found;  that a particularly tragic episode was now behind us. This view was evident as the media focus moved to the knock-on effect the Marikana settlement has had — and may still have — especially throughout the mining sector.

It is a focus that concentrates on wages and the possible and probable effects these may have on the national economy.  The consensus among mainstream economists seems to be that such interim double-digit wage deals are bad because they are inflationary.

This may be so, but need not be. There is also the positive aspect that, with more money in their hands, miners and their families will be able to buy more, so increasing the demand for products.  Unfortunately, this often means imported products, so raising another issue that is seldom adequately addressed.

In any event, better pay, even at the level of R11,000 for rock drill operators, will not solve the lack of amenities, the usurious demands of the shack farm loan sharks, the mashonisas, or the fact that perhaps more than a third of miners are employed through outsourced companies who may pay considerably less.

For example, and despite the comment by National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general secretary Frans Baleni, the 1200 mineworkers retrenched last week from a Lonmin development shaft, were not employed by Lonmin:  they worked for construction company, Murray and Roberts.  No details are yet available in this case, but construction company employees generally earn less than their mining company counterparts.

It is also accepted that at least 30 per cent of mineworkers are employed via outsourced labour brokers. Yet throughout all the argument about Marikana and the subsequent eruptions this issue was not dealt with in any depth and rumour abounded.  Contrary to one widespread item of gossip, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, an ANC executive member, Lonmin director and former general secretary of NUM, does not own a labour broking company.

However, the ANC investment arm, Chancellor House, has mining interests and one of the fiercest critics of the mining industry, the South African Communist Party (SACP), has a connection with a controversial new platinum mine. Matlotlo Trading 115 is a wholly owned subsidiary of Masincazelane Trust, the “social investment arm” of the SACP.  It owns 10 per cent of Toboti Platinum at Kalkfontein.

Matlotlo is in partnership in Kalkfontein with major industry player, Impala Platinum. Implats has a 20 per cent stake in Toboti.

So while there clearly needs to be a thorough investigation into the role played by mining companies, there is also a need for considerable introspection on the part of shareholding entities and their beneficiaries.  But until and unless all the issues raised by the Marikana moment — and which apply to the country as a whole — are comprehensively addressed, the social fabric of South Africa will continue to become dangerously frayed.

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