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Miners battle against South Africa’s glittering elite

This article is over 17 years, 2 months old
A bitter strike has revealed the conditions workers still suffer in South Africa. Miners’ leader David Sipunzi spoke to Socialist Worker
Issue 1946
South African gold miners produce fabulous wealth (Pic: Vismedia)
South African gold miners produce fabulous wealth (Pic: Vismedia)

At the start of this week there were over 20,000 miners on strike in Free State at gold mines owned by the Harmony firm. Workers are 100 percent behind the action and are determined to fight until they win. The company has claimed that the strike is about job losses, but this is not true.

At stake are some very simple demands that amount to us being treated as human beings. For example, one issue is that if a miner is killed or severely injured at work, then a close relative should be allowed to take their place. This means that the worker’s family can be cared for.

A real demand might be that we want generous compensation for those killed. But even this minimal demand, for relatives to be able to take jobs, is opposed by the bosses.

Harmony does not think that miners are human enough to live in decent accommodation. Ten years after the fall of apartheid is long enough to wait for very basic reforms.

Yet if anything conditions have got worse. Around 60 percent of miners still live in single-sex hostels. There are housing allowances for those who live outside the hostels, but they are not enough to pay for decent accommodation.

Another 30,000 miners at the Gold Fields company began a strike as well last week over similar issues to the Harmony workers. The bosses ran to the courts, which gave them an injunction against the union. So, for the moment, that is off. But more Harmony miners are poised to come out now.

Harmony is already the world’s sixth biggest gold producer, and it wants to take over Gold Fields and become even larger. These firms are immensely wealthy, yet the people who produce all the wealth are still treated so poorly.

Although it is not the issue for this strike, there are many thousands of job losses coming. This will greatly increase the hardship for workers and their families.

Like all mines in South Africa, Harmony’s workforce comes from all over South Africa and from neighbouring countries.

The lives and futures of tens of thousands of people hang on this battle. We are not going to go away without securing our rights.

David Sipunzi is regional secretary of the NUM miners’ union in Welkom, Free State

Nigerian oil workers

A very important strike is scheduled to begin in Nigeria next Tuesday.

Oil workers will walk out as part of a campaign against their bosses’ increased use of low paid casual labour.

These workers are paid far less than permanent workers.

The strike threat comes days after Nigeria’s government pushed through a major anti-union law designed to weaken the country’s powerful labour movement.

A Nigerian trade unionist told Socialist Worker, “After a series of general strikes in the last 18 months, this is another big test for the trade union leaders.

“If we go ahead and win then it will show the government and the multinationals that we cannot easily be tamed.”

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