Deadlock at Lonmin as Zuma visit falls flat
THE standoff at Lonmin’s Marikana mine looked completely intractable yesterday as the workers vowed to continue their illegal strike and it became clear that the threat of mass dismissals would be unlikely to deter them.
Because of conditions in the area near the mine, where the workforce lives in sprawling informal settlements that cannot be easily policed, Lonmin would effectively be unable to employ new workers, should it fire its workforce.
The strikers said the threat of dismissal, which Lonmin put on hold until the week of mourning ended, was doomed to fail.
A rock-drill operator from Bizana, in Eastern Cape, who would not give his name, said all mass dismissals would achieve would be to bring the mine to a halt.
"They can fire us but we will not go away. Any new people who are hired must know that they will take their lives in their hands ."
As the vast majority of workers do not live on the mine’s premises but in nearby informal settlements, anyone reporting for work would have to walk through open veld that is unlit and hard to police. Morning shifts begin in darkness as workers report from 4am.
Government officials present at the mine yesterday expressed concern that the situation appeared to be intractable.
Lonmin workers said they were encouraged by the fact that mineworkers at Royal Bafokeng’s BRPM mine had joined the strike on Tuesday night. The strike at BRPM continued at the mine’s north shaft yesterday.
President Jacob Zuma’s visit to the Marikana strikers yesterday did little to change their attitudes, although the workers listened respectfully to his speech.
Mr Zuma said he had heard about their grievances, which was why he had established a commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances that led to the killing of 34 strikers last week.
After he had left, many of the strikers expressed their disappointment that Mr Zuma had not said what they wanted to hear.
"We wanted him to say that those who have been arrested will be immediately released," said a group of rock-drill operators who, with hundreds of others, milled about the rocky outcrop that was the scene of the killings.
Many were doubtful about the presidential commission. "The same person who gave the order to shoot is the one who appointed the commission," a worker said.
An independent commission, perhaps by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, would be more likely to get to the bottom of what happened, they said.
There is also the widespread belief among workers that the shootings last Thursday were orchestrated by police, who had cordoned off striking workers with razor wire and then shot at them as they rushed through the only exit point, the workers said.
Two policemen had been killed at the mine last weekend.
A meeting yesterday between Labour Minister Mildred Oliph ant and leaders of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) failed to produce solutions to the violent strike. Ms Oliphant’s spokesman, Musa Zondi, said the parties would meet again.
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said yesterday the union was yet to hold a meeting with Lonmin management to discuss the strikers’ wage demand of R12,500 a month. He had received a phone call, Mr Mathunjwa said, from a Lonmin director who said the company was meeting its workers and did not plan to meet unions.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Amcu were to have met on Tuesday night, Mr Mathunjwa said.
"We waited for at least two hours at Lonmin’s offices, only to see NUM president Senzeni Zokwana emerge from a meeting with management," he said.
NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said he did not know anything about the meeting, but that Amcu did not have the bargaining rights at Marikana to allow it to negotiate with the employer. "They only have bargaining rights at Lonmin’s Karee mine, not Marikana," Mr Seshoka said.
Mr Mathunjwa insisted yesterday that Lonmin’s rock-drill operators earned only R4,000 a month. But striking rock-drill operators at the mine yesterday said they earned R4,900.
Their basic pay was R5,400 before deductions and most also received a living-out allowance of R1,800 a month. Rock-drill operators also worked on a bonus system according to targets and the number of holes drilled.
Mark Munroe, Lonmin’s executive vice-president for mining, said yesterday: "Rock-drill operators earn in the region of R10,000 per month without bonuses and over R11,000 including bonuses. The average bonus is R1,500 a month and a rock-drill operator can earn up to R6,000 a month in bonuses."
A large contingent of Cabinet ministers and government officials was at Marikana yesterday, ahead of today’s memorial service.
Asked if he thought the strike’s spread was orchestrated, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said there were investigations into the matter and it would be premature to express an opinion.
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