The social imperative

Sep 21 2012 07:00
*Mzwandile Jacks

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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.

The 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 amicable settlement.

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 000 bonus.

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 infrastructure.

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 action.

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.

 - Fin24

*Mzwandile Jacks is a freelance journalist.

*Follow Fin24 on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest.

lonmin  |  mining unrest  |  wage disputes



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