Cli­mate of fear grips Amcu ‘rebels’

Union leader Joseph Mathun­jwa’s op­po­nents say he is a ‘vam­pire’ and a ‘dan­ger­ous cap­i­tal­ist’

Mail & Guardian - - News - Go­van Whit­tles

Five years af­ter the As­so­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers and Con­struc­tion Union (Amcu) be­came the big­gest min­ing union on the plat­inum belt, its pres­i­dent, Joseph Mathun­jwa, has cre­ated a cir­cle of power around him­self so that, it is al­leged, those who op­pose him are purged and si­lenced.

At least five Amcu mem­bers have been killed on the plat­inum belt in the past two months. They in­clude Amcu’s Im­pala trea­surer, Mpeke Nonyana, shaft com­mit­tee mem­ber Mo­hauh Maseko and the union’s Lon­min sec­re­tary, Zingisa Mzen­dane.

Amcu mem­bers in North West claim there is a di­rect link be­tween Nonyana and Mzen­dane chal­leng­ing the union and their sub­se­quent deaths. Oth­ers have al­legedly been threat­ened af­ter show­ing dis­sent.

But Mathun­jwa has blamed “apartheid’s third force” for the killings, spec­u­lat­ing that they were part of a “new cam­paign be­ing un­leashed by the state and its al­lies”.

Mathun­jwa has con­sol­i­dated his con­trol of the union since cap­i­tal­is­ing on min­ers’ un­hap­pi­ness with the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers (NUM) in 2012. Mem­bers of work­ers’ com­mit­tees who broke ranks with the NUM were made de facto Amcu branch lead­ers af­ter the un­pro­tected strikes in 2012, but many have since been purged to al­legedly make room for Mathun­jwa’s al­lies.

The re­cent spate of killings co­in­cides with a num­ber of the Lon­min, Im­pala and An­glo Plat­inum work­ers who led the 2012 strikes be­ing purged or side­lined from the union. The Mail & Guardian has seen a fo­rum on which former strike lead­ers com­mu­ni­cate, which shows that many are no longer as­so­ci­ated with Amcu.

The union has not elected new lead­ers since it post­poned its congress that was sched­uled for 2013.

Amcu mem­bers in Marikana this week told the M&G that calls for a na­tional congress to elect new lead­ers were gain­ing mo­men­tum on the plat­inum belt, amid un­hap­pi­ness by work­ers over the lack of demo­cratic ac­count­abil­ity in the union.

Ousted Amcu mem­bers claim that Mathun­jwa is fuelling the vi­o­lence through his pub­lic con­dem­na­tion of mem­bers who op­pose him.

This, they say, was demon­strated by his pub­lic re­buke of the union’s shaft stew­ards at Im­pala Plat­inum dur­ing a mass meet­ing in Septem­ber. Less than 48 hours later, Nonyana was shot dead while go­ing to buy food near the mine en­trance.

“In that Im­pala mass [meet­ing] Mathun­jwa al­legedly said: ‘Those who are chal­leng­ing me and re­cruit­ing at shaft 20, soon and very soon abantu bazozi’kakela [those peo­ple will shit them­selves].’ That’s the style he uses. It’s a clear mes­sage,” one of the work­ers who at­tended the meet­ing told the M&G.

At the same meet­ing, Mathun­jwa ac­cused Im­pala worker Fezeka Nyamela of con­spir­ing with ri­val unions to weaken Amcu. A day later, Nyamela’s car was torched.

A cli­mate of fear has now gripped the plat­inum belt. This week, work­ers said they were too scared to re­veal their names or be seen speak­ing to the me­dia. The M&G was told not to visit the union’s Marikana of­fices or to ask its lead­ers any ques­tions.

Mathun­jwa did not re­spond to re­peated re­quests for an in­ter­view, or to an SMS de­tail­ing the al­le­ga­tions made by the work­ers. Amcu spokesper­son Manzini Zungu also failed to re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Work­ers al­lege that Septem­ber was not the first time Mathun­jwa used mass meet­ings, which are at­tended by thou­sands of Amcu mem­bers, to iden­tify so-called en­e­mies.

One of the first peo­ple to be la­belled a traitor was Gaddafi Mdoda, who led work­ers’ com­mit­tees in a five-month un­pro­tected strike at An­glo Plat­inum in 2012. As Amcu’s pop­u­lar­ity grew in 2013 and the NUM shed mem­bers, Mdoda and the com­mit­tee were made Amcu shop stew­ards.

“All that changed when Mathun­jwa called me out by name in the mass meet­ing in 2013. I re­ceived hun­dreds of un­known calls and threats by SMS im­me­di­ately af­ter I was la­belled a traitor,” Mdoda said this week.

“I knew that my life was in dan­ger. So I im­me­di­ately called him. He couldn’t ex­plain why he did it. He said if I think my life is in dan­ger I must go to the po­lice sta­tion,” he said.

The North West po­lice have found no sus­pects in the killings, but con­firmed that cases were un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The mo­tives for the killings were var­ied, say the work­ers who have bro­ken ranks with Amcu.

The union’s western branch, dom­i­nated by Lon­min work­ers, is at the cen­tre of the ten­sion. Mzen­dane was shot and killed as he was wait­ing at a car wash in Marikana, days af­ter re­port­ing al­leged cor­rup­tion in the union.

“He sat against the zinc shop. His red Polo was al­ready washed; in fact, we were get­ting ready to give him the keys,” a wit­ness told the M&G. “A man came around the cor­ner very fast and started shoot­ing. It seems like he knew ex­actly what to do.”

Mzen­dane had been ex­pelled from Amcu along with 28 other mem­bers em­ployed at Lon­min af­ter he il­le­gally gained ac­cess to work emails of the branch chair­per­son, Malibongwe Mdazo, and claimed to have un­cov­ered ev­i­dence of cor­rup­tion.

“He re­ported to Mathun­jwa the [al­leged] cor­rup­tion, which in­volved how the union’s money was be­ing used. A few days later, Mathun­jwa wrote to Lon­min in­form­ing them that he had ex­pelled Mzen­dane,” a former Amcu branch mem­ber said.

The branch’s former chair­per­son, Zitho­bile Manqu, is in hid­ing, af­ter re­sign­ing over what he de­scribed this week as a “dan­ger­ous” en­vi­ron­ment. “My ex­pe­ri­ence of him [Mathun­jwa] is some­one who is the most cor­rupt, ex­tremely dan­ger­ous and a big cap­i­tal­ist. It was like a vam­pire suck­ing the blood of work­ers while claim­ing he’s help­ing us,” Manqu said.

Mzen­dane’s mur­der was fol­lowed by the killing of the western branch’s health and safety chair­per­son, Mvelisi Biyela, who was shot in front of his fam­ily in Marikana. Mathun­jwa’s dis­senters claim Biyela had dis­cov­ered more ev­i­dence of cor­rup­tion, but Amcu said his death showed that “war” had been de­clared on the union.

“If it is war, then let it be known we can fight. We don’t have, nor do we be­lieve in, killing machines to wage war. We will not fight with bul­lets, guns and anony­mous hit­men but with mass ac­tion,” Mathun­jwa said in a state­ment.

Biyela, who is due to be buried in the East­ern Cape on Fri­day, con­fided in his al­lies at Lon­min shortly be­fore he was killed. One of them, a 35-yearold miner, fled Marikana in the hours af­ter Biyela was shot fol­low­ing warn­ings that he would be next.

“They went straight for my room at the Lon­min fam­ily unit hos­tels. They broke the door open look­ing for me, and took ev­ery­thing. My dou­ble fridge, plasma TV and sound sys­tem,” he told the M&G from his hide­out.

The smell of rot­ting food now per­me­ates the hos­tel room, with the worker’s clothes and other pos­ses­sions still scat­tered across the floor. He is not the only one in hid­ing.

The M&G has con­firmed that at least five of the 28 peo­ple who were fired from the union, in­clud­ing a hos­pi­tal staff mem­ber and three work­ers al­lied to the shaft com­mit­tee at Lon­min, have left the min­ing town.

In des­per­a­tion, the ex­pelled work­ers in hid­ing have turned to Solly Phetoe, deputy gen­eral sec­re­tary of the labour fed­er­a­tion Cosatu.

“Ex­pos­ing these things pub­licly might open them up to an at­tack. It’s true that they came. They called me af­ter Biyela was killed,” Phetoe said.

“The work­ers want some­body to guar­an­tee their safety be­fore they say those things about cor­rup­tion in pub­lic. We know work­ers are re­sign­ing from Amcu, re­join­ing NUM. The prob­lem is those work­ers are afraid to hand over the stop or­ders be­cause they risk be­ing killed,” he claimed.

The same work­ers have met the Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Agency, seek­ing pro­tec­tion from what they claim is a sys­tem­atic tar­get­ing of Mathun­jwa’s en­e­mies.

Marikana weeps again: The North West min­ing town of Marikana was reel­ing again this week, af­ter a former Amcu mem­ber was shot dead by a lone gun­man while wait­ing for his car to be washed. Photo: Daylin Paul

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