he pattern of massive wildcat strikes – usually effectively squashed by mass dismissals – took root in the platinum industry years before Marikana.
From 2007 onwards, these strikes often involved violence, isolated assaults and even the occasional murder. At the time, one death was enough to cause a scandal and force a company to suspend its shares on the stock exchange, as Platinum Australia did in 2011 when a contractor was shot dead at its Smokey Hills mine in Limpopo.
The golden thread was the relative weakness of the dominant union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and the unusually large number of contract labour workers used by platinum mines, something that is not found in the gold sector.
In 2007 and again in 2009, Murray & Roberts Cementation, contractor for Aquarius Platinum, fired thousands of striking workers.
The NUM’s inability to appease workers was graphically illustrated in 2009 when its deputy president, Piet Matosa, lost an eye when trying to talk strikers into returning to work during a wildcat strike at Impala.
Fast-forward to 2011, when Lonmin fired all 9 000 workers at its Karee shaft to break another unprotected strike.
The road to Marikana really begins in January 2012 when all 5 000 of Impala Platinum’s rock-drill operators went on an unprotected strike, organised by an interim workers’ committee.
From week one, the NUM was persona non grata at the hostels as the strike expanded to include 12 700 workers – all of whom got fired.
When Impala ultimately caved in and awarded a wage increase, Lonmin’s workers took up the baton.
The difference this time was that the fireand-rehire tactic did not work.
TWILIGHT Mine workers gather at the Wonderkop Stadium to hear what their union leaders have to say