From left, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union general secretary Jeffrey Mphahlele, president Joseph Mathunjwa and national treasurer Jimmy Gama brief the media in Sandton, Johannesburg, on Friday.  Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
From left, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union general secretary Jeffrey Mphahlele, president Joseph Mathunjwa and national treasurer Jimmy Gama brief the media in Sandton, Johannesburg, on Friday. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

SOUTH Africa is being set up for the second phase of Marikana, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa warned on Friday.

His warning came after a tough week in which wage talks between the unions and the Chamber of Mines, which represents major gold companies such as AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields, broke down.

Rivalry between Amcu and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) led to the deaths of about 50 mineworkers — 34 of those died in what has been called a massacre at Marikana on August 16 last year.

Almost a year later, Mr Mathunjwa believes South Africa might be headed in a lethal direction — partly because of hostility his union is facing from the African National Congress and its alliance partner, Cosatu affiliate NUM. “Members from the ANC have been calling us cockroaches ... saying we should be sprayed and eradicated.

“I am sure everyone remembers what happened in Rwanda when people were called cockroaches and snakes. A million people died.”

Over the past two years, Amcu has gained a strong foothold. It now boasts more than 120,000 members and has gained seats at the negotiating table for wage negotiations. Although the NUM still has 270,000 members, it is fast losing popularity.

The gold sector was first in line to start negotiations but it was clear this week that the parties did not see eye to eye. The NUM, Solidarity and Uasa declared a dispute at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

In response, the Chamber of Mines declared a dispute against Amcu. “It was clear that the separate discussions with Amcu were not going anywhere,” said Charmane Russell, gold producers’ spokeswoman.

Amcu national treasurer Jimmy Gama did not believe the CCMA would bring parties closer together.

Amcu wants a 150% hike in wages and the NUM a 60% increase, while employers are offering 5%.

“These so-called champions of stability left the negotiating tables empty this year,” said Mr Mathunjwa.

“It is clear that there is a concerted effort to portray Amcu as a failed union. Employers want to give the impression that Amcu will not be able to change the lives of workers and that this can only be done by unions with a history in the industry.

“Many believe our members can be coerced into rejoining NUM, but this is not the case. We are signing up new members daily and maybe soon we will tell you that we are also majority union in other sectors,” he said.

• This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times