Amcu members listen to president Joseph Mathunjwa’s address on Wednesday at Wonderkop Stadium in Marikana, near Rustenburg. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Amcu members listen to president Joseph Mathunjwa’s address on Wednesday at Wonderkop Stadium in Marikana, near Rustenburg, in May. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

STRIKING platinum mine workers on Wednesday shunned the employers’ call for them to return to work, gathering instead in their thousands at Wonderkop Stadium at Marikana, near Rustenburg, in a show of force demonstrating their commitment to the industrial action.

Strike-hit Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin have been communicating directly with employees since the beginning of the 16-week strike via SMSes and through traditional leaders in labour-sending areas, in the hope that a critical mass of workers will accept their wage offer and report for work.

This is in the absence of a collective agreement with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which has been on strike since January 23.

But the fact that Amcu members overwhelmingly chose to attend the rally rather than report for work is a sobering indication that a resolution to South Africa’s most damaging strike remains a distant possibility.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa, who addressed the rally, told reporters that commentators’ predictions of an imminent break in the strike were wrong.

"This is the very same sentiment they have expressed since January (doubting) how long the workers can go on. It has now been four months," he said.

Amcu members were used to going without disposable income before the strike as they had not been able to live on what they were paid in the first place, he said.

Mr Mathunjwa told workers not to be intimidated or pressured by the producers’ SMS campaign.

He again accused producers of colluding with the state, saying politicians who benefited directly from mining were concerned about the financial effect of the strike on their own pockets, while South Africa could not afford to let mines close.

"There is no National Development Plan without the running of the mines," he said.

None of the three companies would give statistics on how many employees reported for work.

Lonmin, which had asked employees to report to work on Thursday, said it would "remain below the parapet for the rest of the week".

"We are not providing statistics on anything," Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey said.

Implats, which has closed its operations for the duration of the strike and has been polling workers via SMS, would also not reveal statistics. Spokesman Johan Theron said while a majority of workers had indicated in the poll that they wanted to return to work, when asked whether they would actually do so in the current circumstances, most declined.

At Amplats, where a "safe passage programme" has been running throughout the strike to escort non-strikers to work, the company said attendance was increasing slowly.

"There is an uptick but we are not giving out specific numbers. We are encouraged that there is an increase," spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said.

While all three companies remain focused on persuading employees to return to work, it is understood that they have begun internal discussions on alternative strategies should the return to work campaign fail.

Both Amplats and Lonmin have warned that they may soon start retrenchment procedures.

Tensions have been on the rise in the area this week, with four people killed since Sunday. Employers say intimidation is high, but the union denies this.

On Wednesday, though, Marikana and Freedom Park, near the Impala mine, were quiet — despite two cars being burnt — with masses of workers streaming to the stadium. There were no reported incidents of non-strikers being prevented from going to work.

"We escorted all the buses without any incidents. Nobody was barred from going into a workplace," said North West police spokesman Brig Thulani Ngubane.

On Wednesday, police commissioner Riah Phiyega and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa addressed the media. Mr Mthethwa said police had disarmed people carrying sticks, but said it was up to the strike organisers to ensure people were peaceful and not carrying weapons.

Gen Phiyega said the police were keeping the area safe for people who want to go to work. "We have special units and we have normal units (of police) … the numbers … as far as we are concerned, we have assessed the situation and we have assessed the risk and we have deployed (sufficient numbers)," she said.

Amcu’s application to the Labour Court for an order to bar employers from direct communication with workers will be heard on Tuesday. The companies said on Wednesday that they would oppose the application.