MINERS and Lonmin [JSE:LON] management should preserve one key detail
in mind as they returned to work and resumed operations this week: the new
agreement was a clear win for workers, management and the country.
The new agreement was also a victory for all because it set
the stage for major changes that could possibly normalise relations between
workers and management in South African mines for a longer time to come.
settlement could also be used as a positive reference point in the future.
Inside a raucous union stadium packed with miners on
Tuesday, a thunderous round of applause halted the protracted miners’ strike in
Marikana, North West Province, after management and workers agreed to an
In terms of the settlement, the lowest underground worker
would earn R9 611 from R8 164, a winch operator R9 883 from R 8 931,
a rock drill operator R11078 from R9 063 and production team leader
R13 022 from R11 818.
All workers would also receive a once-off R2
This ended weeks that have been rocky, confusing for the
public and terrible for the country's image.
The potential of this settlement is great, supposing that
mining companies can pull it off. Nothing a mining company does matters more
than lifting its hard-working staff from the economic quicksand.
But mining companies in South Africa seem to be totally
oblivious to this fact.
According to the Bench Marks Foundation, the mining
companies continue to ignore the views of an important stakeholder in the
mining matrix - the communities in which the mines operate.
The foundation is
an independent organisation founded by the churches as part of their call for a
more just economy, one that is inclusive and recognises that economic life
begins with communities.
John Capel, the executive director at the Bench Marks
Foundation, says many people in these communities are there ironically because of the living-out allowance the mines pay so that they don’t have
to provide on-site accommodation.
He says platinum mines have a responsibility to house their
workers and, along with the local government, to develop appropriate
The problems begin with the mining houses that promise jobs
to local communities and then largely recruit through centralised employment
systems. This is resented by host communities who happen to have lived in these
areas for more than 100 years in most cases.
An in-depth discussion about ownership and control and how
minerals can bring about holistic development is needed. How the minerals can
be used in a responsible development manner is also important.
What South Africa needs is a just, redistributive path and a
just economic and democratised system, where the interests of all the people
are considered above all else, according to Capel.
I agree with him and do believe that most mining companies
are driven by the profit motive, ignoring all elements of economic improvement
for their staffers.
That is the reason the problems that were afflicting
Marikana miners are also troubling other miners in the country.
The results of Lonmin's Marikana strike spread throughout
the country almost urging other disgruntled mine workers to act towards protest
This week, strike action spread to mines like Gold Fields’
Kloof Driefontein Complex (KDC) gold mine in Carltonville south west of
Johannesburg, where a reported 15 000 miners downed tools.
The incident at Gold Fields [JSE:GFI], however, was not the last to be
seen in South Africa as Anglo American Platinum’s (Amplats) Thembelani mine in
Rustenburg was forced to suspend operations after the mine said it wanted to
protect its workers from intimidation by striking miners in the region.
Aquarius Platinum [JSE:AQP] in Rustenburg was another mine to be hit a
by strike action, which saw it become the fourth mine to stop operations in a
protracted labour dispute.
This is a sign that miners’ grievances are far from over, and that the country should brace itself for further disturbances. And in the
meantime, investors will continue to view this country with great scepticism.
But the ball is in the mining companies’ court. Let them pay
better salaries and improve the lives of the communities around which they
operate. Then the country will have a stable labour environment.
*Mzwandile Jacks is a freelance journalist.
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