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Vol. 76/No. 34      September 24, 2012

Jailed South African miners
released, strike continues
One month after going on strike and three weeks after cops killed 34 strikers and wounded 78, rock drillers at British-based Lonmin’s platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa, are still refusing to go back to work.

The Aug. 16 massacre by the cops and arrest of 270 workers sparked outrage across the country. Adding to the indignation, two weeks after their arrest the workers were charged with murder for the shootings by the cops. The National Prosecutor’s office applied a “common purpose” law frequently used under the old white supremacist apartheid regime for persecuting its opponents, especially supporters of the African National Congress, which led the national liberation struggle and is now the ruling party.

On Sept. 2 the prosecutors office backed down in the face of public outcry. The common purpose charges are suspended until “all investigations have been completed,” announced Nomgcobo Jiba, the acting director of the office.

The miners were released without bail but must go back to court in February to face charges of public violence.

More facts have come to light that contradict claims by the national chief of police that cops fired to protect themselves from strikers armed with machetes and spears. According to South Africa’s The Star, “Post-mortem reports on miners shot by police at Marikana show that most of the men were hit from behind—an indication that they were shot while fleeing.”

More than 150 miners have filed charges against the cops, saying they were beaten, kicked and tortured after their arrests to force them to provide names of miners who allegedly killed two cops in the week prior to the police massacre.

Some 3,000 rock drillers are on strike out of 28,000 direct employees and 10,000 contract workers at Lonmin, the third largest platinum mining company in the world. But barely 6 percent of the entire workforce has shown up to work, according to Lonmin, which obtained a court order Aug. 11, the day after the strike started, declaring it illegal.

The strikers are demanding an increase in their base wage from about 4,000 rand ($480) a month to 12,500 ($1,500).

‘Peace accord’ fails

The South African press reported that a “peace accord” that would end the strike Sept. 10 under the auspices of the government-financed Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration; the South African Council of Churches; and the Department of Labour had failed. The accord stated that wage negotiations would conclude within 30 days and that all “stakeholders” agree that carrying “illegitimate weapons” such as “knobkerries, pangas and knives is dangerous and unacceptable.”

Along with Lonmin, the accord was signed by officials of the National Union of Mineworkers, which is affiliated to the governing African National Congress, and two smaller unions that also oppose the strike.

“Before there can be negotiations over wages, we need the miners back to work,” National Union of Mineworkers spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka told the Militant.

Seshoka welcomed the dropping of the “common purpose” charges against the strikers. “It is the police that did the shooting. You can’t just charge workers for being there.”

Delegates of the striking workers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union refused to sign the accord. Instead, some 10,000 strikers and their supporters marched from one shaft to another that same day, many wearing T-shirts with photos of their fallen comrades.

“Do you think we are worried because Lonmin is losing money?” striking miner Powell Dalibango told South Africa’s news24 TV. “We are not. We have lost things worth more than money in this situation.”

Lonmin spokesperson James Clark told the Militant by phone from London that “nobody has any interest in cutting off the road to the negotiating table” but insisted that talks can’t take place “during an unlawful strike” because it would set a bad precedent. He accused the strikers of using “violence and intimidation” to prevent other miners from going to work.

Joseph Mathujwa, president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, laughed at charges that 3,000 strikers had prevented 35,000 other miners from going to work. “Especially after the massacre support grew, even among those not on strike,” he told the Militant by phone Sept. 11. “Their relatives and friends had been murdered.”

“The workers face harsh conditions,” he noted. “The machines they use to break the rock weigh 30 to 40 kilograms [66 to 88 pounds]. The safety records in many of the mines is appalling. The owners are getting away with murder.

“The workers live in corrugated shacks often without running water or electricity. The company says they are giving them 1,600 rand a month for accommodation, but a single room with a shower would cost more than 3,000 rand a month.”

Mathujwa said AMCU did not get involved until after the workers had already gone on strike and had not been part of proposing the wage demands. “We went to talk to the workers at the invitation of the company after the strike began, as did the NUM. We said they should go back to work,” he said. “We were the only union that stayed to talk with the workers without police protection or security and we won their trust.”

Workers at other mines have been inspired by the struggle at Lonmin. Some 12,000 workers at Gold Fields KDC East mine went back to work Sept. 5 ending a one-week strike protesting a monthly deduction for funeral insurance. Five days later workers at the KDC West mine began a wildcat strike.

At Impala Platinum in Rustenburg a committee made up of workers from both the AMCU and the NUM presented the company with demands for 8 to 10 percent wage increases.
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