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South Africa’s miners prepare for mass strikes

This article is over 8 years, 5 months old
Makhanya is a platinum miner at Amplats mine in Rustenburg and an AMCU union steward. He spoke to Ken Olende about the struggle in the pits
Issue 2363
Lonmin miners attend a memorial service after police killed 34 miners at Marikana last August
Lonmin miners attend a memorial service after police killed 34 miners at Marikana last August (Pic: Government ZA/flickr)

We began organising for ourselves in April last year. First we talked to the ten people on my team, then the whole night shift. Then we moved to the morning shift.

So we had one shaft organised. There are 21 shafts at Amplats’ Rustenburg mine. We sent people out to talk to workers from other shafts as they knocked off and now we organise everyone.

We realised that the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was failing us. But at first we didn’t want to get involved with any other union.

There are 47 of us on the workers’ committee. Last September we came out on strike. We were out for ten weeks altogether. 

The company would not talk with us unless we joined a union. So we went back to work and joined the AMCU.

The previous union was too soft. We started calling them the National Union of Management. Amplats prefer working with the NUM, but now they are forced to negotiate with the AMCU.

We meet each and every week for a mass meeting. I earn £400 a month. Our new basic must be £640. But we are demanding money for other things—travel, food, an underground allowance and a safety allowance. 

And a skill allowance. I am a scraper winch operator, but I have to know the skills of all ten people in the team so that I can replace anyone who is off that day.

But the company didn’t train us for this. Altogether that comes to about £1,000. We deserve it.

I travel to work from the squatter camp by the mine. There is no water or electricity. My safety is not guaranteed when I walk home at night.


I have to wake up at 4am to get in for 4.45am. Once you leave the surface the conditions change. It is so hot. I walk almost 1 kilometre underground before I start work. I have my overalls and tools and food and water—this can weigh 10kg.

When we work the ceiling is at 1.2 metres so people develop back problems from crouching. 

When we blast the air fills with dust, which creates problems with silicosis. It has symptoms similar to TB.

Doctors in the company hospital always seem to define it as TB. But then, the company isn’t responsible if someone catches TB.

We’re supposed to work eight hour shifts, but it isn’t possible to complete the work we are set in that time so we often work for 12 or 15 hours.

My wife and six children live in KwaZulu-Natal about 1,000 kilometres from Rustenberg. I visit them twice a year. Can you imagine that? I watch my child cry and say, “Who is this man, Mum?”

I have annual leave and see them for 30 days, but the other visit I go on Friday, spend Saturday with them and on Sunday I’m coming back. 

And it’s not only them who depend on me, there is also my sister, my father and so on—11 altogether.

This year when we strike we should all come out together—platinum, gold and coal—across all South Africa’s provinces. We joined AMCU so we can do this. So we hope to have 200,000 miners out in September.

The Marikana massacre was a clear message to miners that we shouldn’t go on strike. It was the worst killing, but it wasn’t the first. Already 60 people had died around Rustenberg. 

It made us angry. But if we are supposed to die then we are prepared to die.

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