Johannesburg - South Africa’s mines remain prone to more
violent flare-ups as unions and companies scramble to give effect to a peace
accord brokered by government this week – a process abandoned at the last
minute by the newly dominant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union
Attempts by Mining Minister Susan Shabangu to restore calm
came after the precarious state of stability in the industry was demonstrated
on Monday, when 15 workers were injured at the Anglo Platinum [JSE:AMS] (Amplats)
mine, Siphumelele, in the North West in a confrontation between members of an
Amcu-aligned worker committee and officials belonging to the National Union of
The peace accord – signed on Thursday by the Chamber of
Mines, the departments of mineral resources and labour, as well as labour
unions the NUM, Uasa, Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers of
South Africa – seeks to create a framework for peaceful coexistence, where
minority unions would continue to enjoy meaningful rights alongside those of a
It also includes commitments to collectively denounce
violence, calls to respect the laws of the country, tolerance for different
views, as well as the freedom of association and non-association.
The signatories have been given 14 days to put the necessary
structures for these frameworks in place.
For now, however, the process could further delay the
recognition of Amcu as the preferred union for the majority of workers at the
biggest platinum producers around Rustenburg – the hotbed of last year’s wave
of violent and unprotected strikes.
Audits done by Impala Platinum Holdings [JSE:IMP] (Implats)
and Lonmin [JSE:LON] – the country’s second- and third-biggest platinum
producers, which collectively employ more than 50?000 people – have already
indicated Amcu is the majority union representing more than 50% of the
workforce, at the expense of the NUM.
Neither company has yet concluded a recognition agreement
with Amcu, citing the need to first put new frameworks in place.
In the case of Amplats, however, the NUM continues to enjoy
its majority-union privileges, which include the right to serve members from
dedicated offices. The company has not released the results of its membership
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa told City Press on Friday
the union has submitted debit order forms for more than 50% of Amplats workers.
The claim was backed up by a divisional manager of Uasa,
Franz Stehring, who said his union was informed two weeks ago by Amplats’
forensic division that Amcu enjoyed the support of 60% of the group’s mining
operators in the Rustenburg area.
Anglo American’s executive director for South Africa,
Khanyisile Kweyama, told City Press on Thursday Amplats would reveal the
numbers as soon as it was confident unions were committed to sitting around the
Mathunjwa, however, said the companies were wasting time and
fuelling more unrest.
“Amplats are ducking and diving; Implats are ducking and
diving,” he said. “They’ve got the numbers, so why don’t they just recognise
Mathunjwa said workers’ committees at Amplats were loyal to
Amcu, but the union had no control over them as it was precluded from
organising members at the organisation’s mines.
“We need shop stewards at the mine to address this issue,”
he said. “No one can control a worker committee because it does not have a
constitution or structure guiding it.”
Officials of both Implats and Lonmin have indicated, in
recent weeks, that the formation of an inclusive union model was critical for
labour stability at the companies, saying their models of excluding minorities were
an underlying cause of the strikes and violence of 2012.
“You sit with the risk that in a year or two somebody else
(another union) comes and you’ll go through the same upheaval to change the
status quo,” Johan Theron, head of human resources at Implats, told journalists
at the release of the company’s half-year results last week.
That view was echoed in an earlier interview with Lonmin’s
acting CEO, Simon Scott.
“We want it to be all-inclusive so we don’t have a situation
where a group of employees feel they need to go outside the bargaining
arrangement in order to get the attention they feel they may deserve,” Scott
said at the Mining Indaba earlier this month.
On Thursday, Shabangu said she would continue to try to
convince Amcu to form part of the structured peace process.
“We need them,” she said. “It is in the interests of the
country and the interests of the economy as a whole. They say they are a
majority; we say they have to be confident and participate.”
Mathunjwa said the peace agreement was a rushed process in
which the union wasn’t afforded enough time to consult with its members.
“What difference would another 24 hours have made?”
He said the union’s commitment to peace was demonstrated by
the fact that it was the only party prepared to speak to and encourage workers
to return for duty during a one-day stayaway following Monday’s shooting.
- City Press