• Inside Labour

    The 'casualisation' of the workforce is often a ploy to cut costs, says Terry Bell.

  • When drones go dancing

    Drone technology's future is about to come to life in Cape Town, says Arthur Goldstuck.

  • Testing times for Matona

    New Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona has his work out cut out for him, says Mzwandile Jacks.

Data provided by iNet BFA
Loading...
See More

Num under siege

Jul 04 2012 11:47 Reuters

Protesting NUM miners

Related Articles

Five miners die at Gold Fields mine

Shabangu to meet with Num

Num, Shabangu to address concerns

Num: Pay workers first in liquidations

Rustenburg unrest cuts Implats output

Mining industry accused of blackmail

 

Modder East/Johannesburg - Shaking his fist and surrounded by angry colleagues, South African gold miner Chres Manyaka raged against "fat cats" getting rich from the sweat of the workers.

But he was not talking about managers of the Gold One International [JSE:GDO], which had sacked him and several other fellow workers for an illegal strike at the mine east of Johannesburg.

Manyaka's tirade was against bosses of the National Union of Mineworkers (Num), a pillar in the trade union alliance that brought workers to the fight against apartheid and helped carry the African National Congress to power in 1994 in the continent's largest economy and No 1 platinum producer.

"If you go and see the Num people you can see the big stomachs. Num now is like management," 28-year-old Manyaka said outside Gold One's entrance, fringed by the bluegum trees whose timber has been used for beams in South African mines.

Complaints that the Num, which remains a buttress of political and electoral support for the ruling ANC-led alliance, is not defending the interests of its rank and file have put the legendary labour grouping under seige.

Aggressive upstart unions have been poaching Num members in often violent turf wars waged from the shantytowns ringing the world's largest platinum mine to smaller gold-producing pits.

The ANC, which has governed since the end of white rule in 1994 starting under the magnetic leadership of Nelson Mandela, still looks unrivalled in the political sphere.

But the groundswell revolt against the Num is tapping into the same popular discontent with poor government delivery of services that is confronting the ANC.

"There isn't a challenge to the ANC yet but there is an indication of where that challenge is going to come from, and that is an alternative labour movement," said Gary van Staden, political analyst with NKC Independent Economists.

This should be a concern for President Jacob Zuma as Num, with its roughly 300 000 members and through its Congress of South African Trade Unions mother body, is a key backer of his bid for a second term as leader of both the ANC and the nation.

ANC leaders are aware that elsewhere in southern Africa, the strongest challenges to liberation movements turned ruling parties have emerged from urban and mining-based trade unions.

The most telling example can be found right next door in Zimbabwe, where the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that shares a turbulent coalition government with President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party grew out of unions and the urban poor.

'We don't do politics'

In their assault against the Num, brash smaller challengers like the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the Professional Transport & Allied Workers Union (PTAWU) have been hammering away at what they scent is its weakest spot.

Just like many ANC bigwigs in government, Num heavyweights now face accusations from their restless membership that they spend more time looking after their own interests than improving the lot of ordinary workers.

"The Num, they see that the train is moving so they lose the plot. Our friends are getting rich. So the focus is no longer with the workers," said Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa.

Past Num leaders who are ANC heavyweights include Cryil Ramaphosa, a business tycoon with interests in the mining sector who today is one of South Africa's richest men.

And while Num leaders recently attended a glittering gala dinner with mining company executives early in June, their rivals are working the crowded urban centres, townships and pitheads in their campaign to poach Num members.

The offices of PTAWU, the union that Manyaka and other Num defectors joined, are sparsely furnished in a rundown part of Johannesburg's city centre.

"We focus on labour issues. We don't do politics," said PTAWU general secretary Reckson Baloyi.

Accused by detractors of using strongarm tactics that have sometimes led to turf fights and even deaths, AMCU has been taking on the Num in townships and mines.

It last year challenged the dominant mineworkers' union at the Karee Mine operated by the world's third-largest platinum producer Lonmin [JSE:LON]. It is now recognised there and managed to wrest at least 3 400 members from the Num.

It then waded into the Rustenburg operations of world No 2 platinum producer Impala Platinum Holdings [JSE:IMP]. The wildcat strike and fighting that erupted there shut 15% of the global supply of the precious metal for six weeks this year, driving its spot price higher.

Implats officials say it looks like Amcu now claims about half of the 20 000 unionised workers there but an independent audit needs to verify this. If true, it will mean Amcu has poached about 5% of the Num's members in the past few months.

Delivering - or not

Just as the Num's rivals lambaste the trade union for "failing to deliver", so the ANC government has faced hundreds of protests in poorer communities and townships against deficiencies and shortages in the supply of electricity, water, sanitation, public transport and health and education services.

An example of such potentially explosive discontent can be found in the Zandspruit squatter camp on the northern edge of Johannesburg, where riots periodically erupt among residents fed up with a lack government services.

"People want homes, electricity, roads and toilets. They have been promising for too long and they do nothing," said Tshepo Ramapoka, 43, a self-employed building contractor who lives in the settlement.

He was speaking the day after the latest protests as city workers cleaned up the rock- and brick-strewn streets under the watchful eyes of heavily-armed police. The charred remains of burnt tyres were strewn about.

Most of Zandspruit's residents live in wretched conditions in makeshift corrugated iron homes which have been jumbled together in a maze of dirt roads covered in trash.

Speaking at an ANC policy conference last week, Zuma acknowledged the anger displayed in service delivery protests and said the government must address it.

"You can't sit and say 'it's fine'. We are in government, we have to do something about it," Zuma said.

A decent wage?

Growing mineworkers' frustration with the Num may send a chill up the spine of corporate boardrooms because the main union has consistently won above-inflation wage hikes for its members.

"Every time we go to bargaining it is not about the ANC, it is about the issues raised by our members. And we are delivering double-digit pay increases," Num general secretary Frans Baleni told Reuters, rejecting the accusations against union leaders.

But even a 10% raise may seem paltry when seen from the bottom of the scale in a country where economic inequality is among the highest in the world and where the typical mineworker on average has eight dependents.

Outside Gold One's premises, a crowd of angry workers showed a Reuters correspondent a payslip.

The monthly gross earnings shown on it were R3 746.78, the take-home pay R2 659.26.

Across the industry there are wide disparities in pay and many unskilled or semi-skilled workers make between R3 500 to R5 000 a month for dirty and dangerous work.

Mining companies say costs across the board are rising and that they cannot afford to significantly hike wages and remain profitable.

Average gross monthly earnings in mining in February were around R14 000, according to the latest quarterly employment report from Statistics South Africa.

The average national monthly earnings for all non-farm sectors was just slightly lower than this, but the median figure for mining masks the stark differences between the lower and higher ends of the pay scale in the industry.

PTAWU failed in its bid to gain recognition at Gold One and hundreds of employees who took part in an illegal strike were dismissed by management. But their anger was directed at the Num.

One deduction in the payslip was R28.75 for a Num subscription, which infuriated the sacked workers.

"Even when we say we have quit Num, management still forces us to pay them!" one shouted. 

NEXT ON FIN24X

Testing times for Matona

2014-08-22 07:40

 
 
 

Read Fin24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Company Snapshot

We're talking about:

Small Business

Expanding your business requires capital and banks have stringent lending criteria in place.
 

Money Clinic

Money Clinic
Do you have a question about your finances? We'll get an expert opinion.
Click here...
Loading...