Security guards at Modder East gold mine near Johannesburg shot four miners on a wildcat strike with rubber bullets on Monday of this week. One is in critical condition.
Elsewhere, around 12,000 workers at KCD East gold mine have been taking part in a wildcat strike since Wednesday of last week.
The workers there are in the National Union of Mineworkers. One of their demands is the resignation of local union officials, who they say don’t represent them.
This latest mining crisis in South Africa came as the government withdrew murder charges against 270 Lonmin platinum miners. Police had arrested the miners during the Marikana massacre last month.
They had been charged with “common purpose” under an apartheid-era law in the murder of 34 colleagues—who police had gunned down beside them.
Public outcry across South Africa forced the authorities to withdraw the charges. Now the miners are being released on bail. All were due to be free by Thursday of this week.
Acting national director of prosecutions, Nomgcobo Jiba, said her department had “noted the concerns voiced”.
South Africa’s main unions in the Cosatu trade union federation have close links with the government. Their condemnations of the massacre have tended to partly blame the miners. Yet now a major Cosatu union, the Numsa metal workers’ union, has taken a hard position on the issue.
It said that Marikana “must go down in our history as the first post-apartheid South African state massacre of the organised working class”.
The strike at the Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana continues. Management had threatened to sack all workers who did not return to work last week.
But they could only claim that 13 percent of workers came in on Monday, and numbers fell through the week. Last Monday the figure had dropped to 4.5 percent. Once again, Lonmin bosses have been forced to back down and negotiate.
The South African government had said it would not get involved in an industrial dispute. But on Wednesday of last week labour minister Mildred Oliphant oversaw talks between striking Marikana strikers and management.
Negotiations are hampered as the company only recognises the NUM but not the more radical AMCU to which the strikers now belong. The miners are still demanding a rise to 12,500 rand (£940) a month, which would triple many workers’ salaries.
Crisis and chaos in ANC
Workers in South Africa have been dissatisfied with their political and trade union leaderships for years. The Marikana massacre has brought this anger to a head.
The crisis comes in the run-up to the ruling ANC’s 100th anniversary and a major conference where it will re-elect much of its leadership.
The union federation Cosatu is a central part of the alliance that keeps the ANC in power. Its biggest affiliate is the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
The NUM built its strength through militancy. But since the ANC came to government in 1994 it has increasingly held down any anti-government fightback. This is why the NUM has been so reluctant to unequivocally condemn the police at Marikana.
Some workers, enraged by this, have abandoned it. Many have joined the AMCU, which is not aligned.
The second biggest Cosatu affiliate is the metal workers’ Numsa. Numsa is the first major Cosatu union to condemn the Marikana killings outright (see above).
The socialist Democratic Left Front has said, “The decision to lay the charges and then drop them reveals the chaos in the ANC.”
Send solidarity to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union at [email protected]