JULIUS Malema yesterday raised the stakes in an increasingly bitter political battle gripping SA’s platinum fields, threatening more strikes unless mineworkers’ working conditions improved.
The expelled African National Congress (ANC) Youth League president scored a breathtaking political coup yesterday, dictating proceedings at a memorial service for slain workers at Marikana and then taking full credit for organising and funding the event and telling the mourners that the government "did nothing".
Cabinet ministers looked on in shock as the full extent of Mr Malema’s political ambush became apparent.
Mr Malema’s political manipulation of the events and his links to striking platinum miners have confirmed the belief among Cabinet ministers, industry chiefs and analysts that the labour instability in the platinum belt is being orchestrated.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said on Wednesday an investigation was under way into the suspected political manipulation of mineworkers.
A second, senior member of the government, said yesterday there was a strong belief at the top levels of government that the events were being instigated.
Speaking at the service yesterday, Mr Malema made it clear he intended further fanning the flames of discontent in the industry. "You must stand up and fight for your rights. If these conditions are not going to change we will see more strikes in the mining industry. This is a mining revolution," he said, to rapturous applause.
Mr Malema’s manipulation of the event yesterday was carefully planned and carried out in tandem with local worker leaders, who align themselves with a new trade union recruiting miners, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).
In meetings with the government’s interministerial task team and religious leaders leading up to the memorial event, the worker leaders told the government they did not want a marquee and wanted to hold the event outdoors.
A stage and sound equipment was erected by the government in the veld adjoining the informal settlement close to the mine, near the koppie that was the scene of the killing of 34 striking mineworkers last Thursday.
But on the other side of the koppie, the Friends of the Youth League — an organisation formed to support Mr Malema after his expulsion from the ANC — erected a white marquee, with chairs and a public address system.
It was there that people gathered for the memorial service, with Mr Malema revealing he had arranged and paid for the tent.
"The Friends of the Youth League paid for this tent and this sound system. Your government did nothing. Today they are here to pose for pictures so that they can record they were part of the meeting," he said.
Workers’ representatives had agreed with the organising committee that there would be no trade union or political party speeches. But after the religious part of the service ended, the workers’ leaders took to the stage and announced changes to the programme, which included speeches by Mr Malema, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa and Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa.
The Cabinet committee charged with assisting the workers and their relatives last night criticised the hijacking of the memorial service, which it said had "unfortunately degenerated into a party-political platform".
"The event lost its purpose and desecrated the memory of the departed who were supposed to be remembered in dignity," the committee said in a statement.
"The presence of the committee adequately demonstrated government’s empathy and commitment to assist the bereaved families. After the memorial service, the committee visited the bereaved families in Marikana to pay their respects."
Mr Mathunjwa received a rousing welcome from the crowd. In a short address he criticised the process of the awarding of mining licences, which he said should be done more carefully.
Asked afterwards if he had any links with the Friends of the Youth League, Mr Mathunjwa said there were none. He asserted that labour instability at the platinum mines was spontaneous and not orchestrated.
"We’ve got no relationship with the Youth League. This is not being instigated. People have been in silence for 300 years. And now every township is burning," he said.
Apart from the concern in the government, industry sources and analysts expressed fears about the potential for continuing instability in mining. A top platinum executive, who did not want to be named, said: "This is obviously bigger than what you see on the surface. This is not a company-specific problem."
Nic Borain, political risk analyst for BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities, said labour activities at several platinum mines were showing "very similar demands and organising methods and it is unlikely that they are not co-ordinated".
Peter Montalto of Nomura Asset Management said the Lonmin dispute was "only the tip of the iceberg". "If Lonmin caves in and meets workers’ wage demands, then demands by other workers will spread throughout the mining industry," he said.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions warned yesterday that it had identified a "co-ordinated political strategy" to use intimidation and violence on the mines.
It said this was manipulated by disgruntled former union leaders, in a drive to create breakaway unions and divide and weaken the trade union movement.
It urged its biggest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers, to "take up their claim", with comparable demands for workers in the industry, "whose wages are equally pathetic, and whose living conditions are also still squalid and lacking in basic services".
About 500 people crammed into the marquee for the five-hour memorial service yesterday and crowds spilled out into the dusty fields outside, listening to the hymns and prayers.
Women wrapped in blankets wept and fainted, and mourners placed flowers at the scene.
Other memorial services took place around the country. "Such a killing of people, of children, who haven’t done anything wrong and they didn’t have to die this way," said Baba Goloza, whose two sons were shot dead by police.
He blamed Lonmin for not taking care of its workers at Marikana.
President Jacob Zuma yesterday announced the terms of reference of a judicial inquiry to probe the events which led to the deaths of 44 people at Lonmin’s Marikana operations, sparing no party to the incident, including the police, the company and the trade unions.
In the days before the police shootings, 10 people were killed, including two police officers and a shop steward hacked to death with machetes.