The Marikana miners at the British-owned Lonmin platinum mine won a pay rise of up to 22 percent. Now others are taking up this demand.
Some 28,000 transport workers across the country walked out on Monday of last week chanting “Marikana! Marikana!” What better tribute could there be to the 34 people massacred in Marikana in August?
Thousands of striking transport workers—mostly lorry drivers—marched through Johannesburg on Tuesday. Around 100,000 workers across the mining and transportation sectors are refusing to turn up for work.
Coal miners in Ermelo are the latest to join the strike. Bosses offered them 22 percent—but the workers rejected it as too low. Chrome miners in Mooinooi staged an underground sit-in on Friday of last week to demand 12,500 rand (£930) a month—the figure the Marikana workers initially wanted.
Others are aiming even higher. A pay increase to 16,500 rand (£1,200) has become generalised demand among gold miners.
Pay isn’t the only issue here. Communities are challenging the rights of mining companies to use their land and rejecting bribes offered by tribal leaders to get people to leave their areas.
Workers from mining communities in Limpopo province marched on the offices of the world's largest platinum producer, Amplats, on Friday. They want mining companies off their land and say they are fighting in solidarity with the Marikana workers.
The revolt can also be felt in neighbouring Namibia. Workers at three Namibian mines—Otjihase, Weatherly and Matchless—have adopted a declaration put out by Marikana miners as their own and are threatening to strike.
Cosatu union leaders are desperate to put out the flames of revolt. Union leaders are trying to gain control of the movement. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi says wages are too low—but against all evidence he argues that illegal strikes are not the way to improve them.
But the rank and file is now awakening. Leaders of the National Union of Miners and other Cosatu unions tried to slander the Marikana strikers, claiming they were led by warlords and thugs.
But many ordinary Cosatu members know the truth—that the Marikana miners were workers, just like them, suffering years of low wages and risking an early death while their employers steal trillions of dollars. Last Saturday women from Marikana marched through Rustenburg demanding justice.
It’s time to stop the thieving by Anglo American, Lonmin and other mining companies. The Marikana workers are calling for joint strike committees that bring together transport workers, mineworkers and their communities—irrespective of union affiliation.
Workers are being urged to take over their unions and replace corrupt shop stewards with committees accountable to the general assemblies of workers.
The wealth of the land, stolen over the past 50 years and more, should be returned. We should arrest the thieving mine bosses and the governments that allowed the theft of this wealth.
Workers should take over and run the mines themselves. This is not just a union issue but a fight against the capitalist system itself.
Shaheed Mahomed is an activist and trade unionist in South Africa