FOILED:  NUM general secretary David Sipunzi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
FOILED: NUM general secretary David Sipunzi. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

THE membership of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has dropped to 206,000 — a level last seen in the 1990s.

NUM general secretary David Sipunzi has blamed the dramatic decline on job losses and a failure by companies to process membership forms.

The union was once the Congress of South African Trade Union’s (Cosatu’s) largest affiliate, and the most powerful in the country. Since the unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1990, the union’s officials have also become secretary-generals of the ANC.

But the NUM has had a difficult run in recent years, with the rise of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) that replaced it as the majority union in the platinum belt.

The NUM’s membership figures, according to Cosatu’s organisational report at its congress in November last year, stood at 270,000. This was an increase from June, when its membership stood at 230,000.

Mr Sipunzi said the union’s membership stood at 206,000 in the last week of January. "Some of the employers have foiled our recruitment efforts by not processing our forms," he said.

Asked why, Mr Sipunzi said: "Maybe they are in love with Amcu."

NUM spokesman Livhuwani Mammburu yesterday said the decline could also be attributed to an auditing of the membership, which was ongoing.

According to Cosatu’s organisational report, the NUM’s membership stood at 270,000 in 1991, reached a peak of 311,000 between 1994 and 1997, and then dropped to 290,000 in 2000.

It increased to 279,000 in 2003, and again peaked at 310,382 in 2012. Employees in mining have also dwindled.

Statistics from the Chamber of Mines show the number of employees in the gold sector dropped from 392,327 in 1994 to 119,075 in 2014.

In 2012, the NUM’s woes began when rock drill operators at Impala Platinum revolted against the union after it had signed an agreement that had ostensibly excluded them. The discontent with the union spread, contributing to a string of wildcat strikes along the platinum belt, which led to the Marikana massacre in August that year.