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Toe the line or else, Zuma warns mining firms

Aug 22 2012 22:30

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Marikana - President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday warned mining firms they could lose their licences if they failed to provide decent housing for workers, a week after 44 miners died when what started as an illegal strike erupted into violence.

Zuma was speaking at a lecture commemorating former African National Congress president James Moroka, in Mmabatho, North West.

Even as the president issued the warning - following a meeting with striking miners at the Lonmin Marikan where police shot 34 armed workers on strike a week ago - tensions appeared to be rippling out to nearby mines.

Hundreds of workers at the nearby Royal Bafokeng Platinum downed tools, demanding higher pay. The world's top producer Anglo American Platinum also admitted receiving a broad list of demands from its employees.

Pointing out that the mining industry has assets valued at more than R20 trillion excluding coal and uranium, Zuma said the sector should be able to pay its workers a better wage.

"In fact it should not be such an industry that has the lowest paid worker, given the wealth they have," he said.

He also noted that the government issued a directive to improve housing conditions for mine workers two years ago.

"In terms of the Mining Charter, all mining companies are required to implement measures to improve the standard of housing and living conditions of mine workers," Sapa reported the president as saying.

He said that according to the charter, mining companies were supposed to convert or upgrade their hostels into family units, ensure that only one person occupied a room and facilitate home ownership options for workers by 2014.

"In terms of the 2012 scorecard, the improvements of hostels to attain the one person per room upgrade and into family units is only 50%. Some companies have plans in place and have achieved some of the targets, such as housing for employees."

He said other companies were falling behind on compliance.

In one case, a company is housing 166 workers in a hostel block with just four toilets and four showers to share between them, the president said.

"Sanctions for non-compliance with the charter include the cancellation of mining rights or licences," Zuma said.

"We urge the industry to take this matter seriously."

Feel your pain

Earlier, Zuma paid his second visit to the Marikana mine since Thursday's events.

"This is painful to all of us. It is not acceptable for people to die where talks can be held," Zuma told about 2 000 workers at a field.

"But I do feel your pain and have come personally to express that. I am certain that the commission of inquiry will get to the bottom of what happened here."

Zuma said at the lecture that the commission was being established.

Police are undertaking their own investigation, while the independent police watchdog is also probing the police action.

"The judicial commission of inquiry that we are in the process of establishing will uncover the truth about what happened in Marikana. It must tell us how the industrial dispute degenerated into such a tragedy.

"We should be able to announce members of the commission and other information before the end of the week," the president said.

He said the mining sector was important in the country, especially since estimates suggested that mineral resources were "expected to be exploitable for over a century to come".

"It is for this reason that the ANC will discuss mining at length at the national conference in December, to see how we can derive greater benefit from the sector."

Zuma said he was raising the Marikana issue at the lecture because "we are commemorating an ANC president whose presidency was characterised by the transformation of the ANC into a very militant organisation".

"What we are seeing in our country is a continuation of a strong culture of freedom of expression which was nurtured and developed by the ANC," he said.

"We just need to ensure that we go back to the basics, and promote peaceful protest, as it is more effective."

But the promise of investigations has done little to soothe the tempers among the 3 000 workers, mainly rock drill operators, who launched their illegal strike on 10 August at the Lonmin Marikana mine to demand higher wages of R12 500 a month.

The strikers say they currently earn R4 000 but Lonmin argues that when their bonuses and other allowances are included, the workers actually make around R11 000, with a 9%  increase set to kick in on 1 October.

Zuma told the striking mineworkers that he would speak to Lonmin about their salary demands, Sapa reported.

List of demands

On Wednesday, similar demands for better conditions were being pressed at the nearby Royal Bafokeng Platinum Mine, where 600 rock drillers downed tools.

Royal Bafokeng spokesperson Kea Kalebe said the protest was confined to one shaft, and that the company was still clarifying the demands of the miners, who told reporters they were also seeking a monthly wage of R12 500.

Anglo American Platinum said it had also received a broad list of demands from its workers but declined to comment on the issues raised.

"It's not a wage demand," said the mining giant's spokesperson Mpumi Sithole.

The new disputes sweeping to other mines emerged following Lonmin's first talks late on Tuesday with representatives of the strikers.

Anglican Bishop Johannes Seoka, who facilitated the talks, said the meeting was cordial and that both sides showed a willingness to cooperate.

"If they had talked earlier on, the massacre would have been avoided," he said.

Lonmin spokesperson Sue Vey said the meeting had not focused on workers' demands, but rather on easing tensions.

Workers who attended the talks meanwhile said they were also demanding the release of the 259 people arrested after last week's crackdown.

"We want our brothers who [were] arrested to be freed, without bail. They must attend the memorial service" Thursday, said Kwenene Msindiseni, a rock driller.

South Africa is preparing services across the country on Thursday, including one near the site of the police killings.

Many of the victims were migrant workers, and most of their bodies have already been returned to their hometowns.

Memorial service

Meanwhile, in Johannesburg, roads around the City Hall will be closed on Thursday from 13:00 until the end of a memorial service for the victims of the Marikana shootings, Sapa reported Johannesburg metro police as saying.

Motorists were advised to avoid roads near the City Hall. Traffic would be diverted past Simmonds and President streets, and the corner of Harrison and President streets, spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said.

"We are expecting a lot of people to attend the service, hence the closure of these roads."

Roads would also be closed around Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown on Thursday because of the Joy of Jazz festival. Jeppe and Bree streets would be closed where they joined Henry Nxumalo and Miriam Makeba streets from 17:30 until 02:00, Minnaar said.

These roads would be closed at the same time on Friday and Saturday.

On Sunday, the roads would be closed from 13:00 until 19:00.

lonmin  |  jacob zuma  |  mahikeng  |  mining  |  mining unrest
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