PRESSURE IS ON POLICE
The murders of Amcu members around Rustenburg seem to have a very different set of motives from the killings before Marikana, but they still have the potential to disrupt labour stability
The method and timing of the recent murders of six members of the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (Amcu) in the Rustenburg area raise two possibilities, neither of which suggests a deeper problem with labour relations yet.
But mining bosses are on edge. If the police drag their heels in finding the perpetrators, tensions between Amcu and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) could resurface. Last week a single arrest was made.
Between 2012 and 2014 platinum mines around Rustenburg were shaken by violence as Amcu started to increase its membership at the expense of the NUM. There were murders of rivals and work stoppages, leading to the meeting at Marikana in August 2012 when police shot and killed 34 striking mineworkers. A few months later, Amcu members embarked on a five-month strike for higher wages.
In the past three years Amcu has become a more established union at the same time as platinum mines, under threat from weak prices and rising costs, have retrenched thousands of workers.
The recent murders, which Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa describes as professional hits, do not suggest inter-union rivalry. There are numerous other theories, including tribal hostilities or rivalry for union positions that allow office-holders to earn backhanders from controlling recruitment or access to taxi business. But recruitment scams — in which desperate people pay bribes to get jobs — happen all over SA and tribalism is less of an issue on the mines than it was 20 to 30 years ago.
The killings have erupted at the same time as the trial of mineworkers charged with several murders in the weeks before Marikana. They also coincide with Amcu’s first elections at branch level to replace shop stewards who assumed office in 2013/2014.
A Rustenburg source, who could not be named, says the motive for these murders is to silence those who could give evidence against the organisers of the killings that took place just before Marikana. Several men were preparing to turn state witness and provide documentary evidence, but they have fled for their lives since the recent spate of murders began.
This motive is borne out by the fact that one of the recent victims was mineworker Tholakele Dlunga who, with 16 others, was charged with the deaths of two policemen, two Lonmin security officers and nine other mineworkers in 2012.
NUM spokesman Livhuwani Mammburu says the union distances itself from the killings, which it believes are the result of infighting within Amcu because it has not democratised its structures. The NUM does not want to be blamed. It wants the police to investigate the matter and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Crispen Chinguno, a lecturer and research fellow at Wits University, says violence on the platinum belt is not new, but what is specific to these killings is that they appear to reflect a crisis within Amcu.
“Amcu has a populist and charismatic leadership which does not conform to the democratic tradition of trade union movements,” he says. “It may be there is contestation within the union for shop-steward positions.”
Johan Theron, group executive of corporate relations at Impala Platinum, says the killings are of great concern because if not resolved, they could escalate and ultimately destabilise labour relations in the region.
Theron says labour relations around Rustenburg are much better than they were in 2012 to 2014. The people who led Amcu at that time became shop stewards. They have now reached the end of their term in office. At Implats operations, elections of new shop stewards were recently conducted successfully without incident. Amcu oversaw the elections and mostly new leaders were elected.
“This is not necessarily unusual or surprising, given how labour relations have normalised and matured over time,” Theron says. “Amcu would not be able to hold national elections until this process is concluded with all branch and regional structures completing the process.”
Lonmin CEO Ben Magara says Lonmin is deeply concerned about the violence, which could undo its efforts to establish a sound rapport with its unions and employees.
Wendy Tlou, Lonmin group head of communications, says elections of
Amcu shop stewards have not yet taken place at Lonmin and it is not clear when they will.
She says Lonmin is waiting for police feedback on what is behind the shootings and is not in a position to speculate on the motives.
Chinguno doubts whether these rivalries will lead to a general strike similar to 2014’s, but he believes the mine bosses could help to promote democratic processes at different levels within the unions.
Mathunjwa has called on the National Prosecuting Authority to look into the murders and says Amcu has engaged private investigator Paul O’sullivan. O’sullivan told a radio station he would support, not duplicate, work being done by the police and look into whether the killings are similar in motive to those before and after the Marikana shootings.
The recent murders do not suggest inter-union rivalry. Other theories for them include tribal hostilities or rivalry for union positions