THE wildcat strikes that have been devastating South African mines and ended the lives of many were a highly organised affair to promote the cause of nationalisation of the country's mines and overthrow current leadership structures, the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Frans Baleni, said on Friday.
He claimed in an interview that former ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leaders, now parading under the banners of Friends of the Youth League and/or Economic Freedom Fighters, had been mobilising resources, weapons and legal support as early as 2011 in an effort to destabilise the country's mines.
Julius Malema, former leader of the ANCYL, had been the leading voice calling for the nationalisation of mines.
"The plan originally was to get NUM leaders preferred by the ANCYL into power at our 2012 congress earlier this year. However, when that did not happen, ANCYL leaders looked for a different alliance, which I believe they found in Amcu [Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union]," said Baleni.
Baleni also claimed that money was involved in the organisation of these strikes and that ringleaders were being paid off to ensure their cooperation.
A source in the gold-mining industry said there were strong rumours that money was flowing from the so-called "Anyone But Zuma" campaign to organisers set on destabilising the sector.
The source said the strikes were too well planned across different sectors and in different parts of the country not to have a mastermind behind them. "Where there's smoke, there usually is a fire," he said.
Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis said the strike that broke out at Kumba Iron Ore's Sishen mine, where miners had received large payouts in December, as well as dividends and above-inflation increases just two months ago, proved that the strikes were not really about wages.
"It only takes a couple of people to intimidate the masses and create anarchy, as we saw at the Sishen mine where 300 workers have now caused the mine to shut down completely," said Du Plessis.
He said that the excessive and unaffordable wage increases demanded by illegally striking mineworkers showed that an end to the strikes was not a priority.
He said this was especially true in light of the fact that most mineworkers had signed agreements through the NUM during the past three to 12 months. "One has to ask yourself what changed all of a sudden; what sparked the unhappiness? There is definitely something strange going on," said Du Plessis.
The NUM has been South Africa's majority mining union for almost three decades. It has strong links to the ruling ANC through its union federation Cosatu. NUM has stated that it does not support a blanket nationalisation of the mines.
The illegal strikes have cost the NUM tens of thousands of members. This year, 13 NUM shop stewards have been assassinated, Baleni said.
NUM's membership at Impala Platinum, where an illegal strike halted production for six weeks at the beginning of the year, has dropped to 13%.
Other displays of unhappiness with the union have included burning a mock coffin filled with NUM shirts at Samancor's operations in Rustenburg and workers marching to NUM's regional offices demanding that their memberships be terminated.
Franz Stehring, divisional manager at trade union Uasa, said the NUM lost favour with the Friends of the Youth League when it came out against a policy of nationalisation.
He agreed that Malema was behind efforts to destabilise the mines, but could not confirm whether or not there was a definite connection between Malema and Amcu head Joseph Mathenjwa.
Many workers have distanced themselves from unions, preferring to represent themselves independently, but Baleni said this is a guise used by Amcu and Malema to avoid prosecution for organising the illegal strikes.
Baleni was disappointed that government officials had been "lame ducks" in not dealing with the unlawful strikes.
Stehring hoped strikes would calm down after candidates for the ANC's Mangaung elective conference had been nominated.
"Then Malema will see whether he will have a voice or not at Mangaung, and whether he could continue to push the nationalisation agenda or not."
* This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times
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