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Vol. 76/No. 42      November 19, 2012

(front page)
South African coal miners protest
killing of 2 strikers, demand raise
The Witness
Coal miners, many of whom belong to National Union of Mineworkers or Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, march Nov. 2 in Dundee, South Africa, to protest killing of two strikers by company security guards and to demand higher wages.

Private security guards killed two striking workers at a Forbes and Manhattan Coal Corp. mine in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province Oct. 31. Some 900 workers have been on strike at the Canadian company’s two underground mines and a processing plant since Oct. 17.

The coal miners are among tens of thousands of miners who have struck for higher wages and other demands in the country’s platinum, gold and chrome industry.

Killed were Alfred Mzikayifani Mdiyako, 58, and Sanele Mthethwa, 39, who were among those picketing at the mine entrance when police told them to move. They complied and continued picketing nearby.

“We saw one of the mine managers loading Mbube Security guards in the back of his van at the mine gate and drive towards us,” Mdiyako’s son Sphamandla Mncube, who is also a striking miner, told the Witness newspaper. “As the security guards jumped off the van they charged at us firing shots.”

The guards have not been arrested or charged in the killings.

Striking miners and their supporters marched in nearby Dundee Nov. 2 to call for the arrest and prosecution of the guards and to press their demands for a wage raise.

“The police are supposed to protect everyone,” Zet Luzipo, regional secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, told the Militant by phone right after the demonstration. “Instead, the police are being used like a private army for the mine owners.”

“Why are there no arrests?” Bhekani Ngcobo, National Union of Mineworkers regional coordinator, said in a phone interview the next day. “If it was workers accused of a killing, we would be arrested and not released until there was an investigation.”

When asked about the killings Forbes spokesperson James Duncan said he could not comment, because “the criminal investigation has to run its course.”

Unlike strikes centered in the North West province by 50,000 gold miners that ended recently and an ongoing strike by more than 26,000 miners at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the strike at Forbes Coal is a “protected” strike. Under South African law, strikes are considered protected if workers have received a strike certificate after seeking mediation and give 48 hours notice of their intent to strike.

Unions unite at coal mine

The “unprotected” strikes have been organized largely by strike committees selected by the miners, without the participation or support of officials of the government-allied National Union of Mineworkers or the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, often described in the South African press as a breakaway from the NUM. But in this strike NUM and AMCU officials, along with representatives of workers who don’t belong to either union, are working together to coordinate their fight for higher wages and better working conditions.

“We are poles apart,” company spokesman Duncan said. “The employees are demanding a 100 percent wage increase. The company has offered 6 percent. The company’s position is that 100 percent is simply not affordable when markets for coal are extremely weak.”

When asked how much the miners make, Duncan replied, “I’m not going there with you. In the South African context it can be hugely misleading to give you numbers.”

Union officials say that workers make 3,400 to 4,200 rand a month ($400 to $480), among the lowest in the mine industry.

“I want more money because we work very hard,” roof bolter Baboangile Ndebele, 36, and one of many women who work underground, said by phone. “The salary is very low. It is dark underground. There are a lot of chemicals and dust.”

“Forbes loads 300 train coaches a day with coal,” AMCU organizer Warton Mdaduli told the Militant, in answer to Forbes’ claims that they can’t afford a substantial pay raise.

“AMCU, NUM, we called the strike together,” Mdaduli said, “even the nonunion members voted for the strike and we are still united.”

Strikers are not just demanding higher wages, Mdaduli said. “We are also asking that maternity leave with pay be increased from four months to six. We will not go back until we win our demands.”

Sit-down strikes at AngloGold

Meanwhile, miners at AngloGold Ashanti Corp. have held several underground sit-ins since returning to work Oct. 25 after the company agreed to move workers to a higher pay grade and pay a 1,500 rand bonus.

“We started hearing rumors that the 1,500 rand was only going to be paid under three conditions: that we produce a certain quantity of gold, that there be no fatalities and that there be no new strike action, all by Nov. 16,” AngloGold miner Tshepo Motloi told the Militant.

After workers at the Mponeng and TauTona mine shafts held underground sit-down strikes Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, the company agreed to move up payment of the bonus to Nov. 6 or sooner.

“It was a dispute over the timing of a safety incentive,” AngloGold spokesperson Alan Fine said by phone. “It has to do with safety performance, attendance and yes, ramping up production.”

On Nov. 5, workers held another short underground strike at the Mponeng shaft, demanding immediate payment of the bonus and that charges of inciting violence be dropped against miner Rodgers Motlhabane, a strike leader. Fine charged that “there was some vandalism and threatening behavior.” Although the sit-down ended, Fine said that AngloGold will not restart work at the shaft “until we have been assured that things will return to normal.”

Motloi said no one had been threatened. “There were 2,700 workers underground and only 15 or so company officials, who workers told to stay put during the action,” he noted, and nobody was hurt.

“The company wants us to stay quiet in the face of injustice,” Motloi said. “But we are going to put on our uniforms tomorrow and report for duty even though they say they are not going to let us work.”
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