Bravado and sheer chaos

The Free­dom Park strike is all a dig­ging in of heels, hot air and vic­tim­i­sa­tion, writes MADALA THEPA

Sunday World - - Feature -

RUB­BER bul­lets, gut­ted shops, a satel­lite cop shop, par­tially burnt and van­dalised public fa­cil­i­ties...

These are the rem­nants of the four-week strike ac­tion in Free­dom Park out­side Rusten­burg.

The strike ac­tion that started on Jan­uary 20 pit­ted work­ers against their em­ployer, Impala Plat­inum the prob­lem be­ing the salary in­cre­ment given to all the staff ex­cept rock drill op­er­a­tors.

Those who chose to go to work were treated to men­ac­ing acts of sav­agery they were tarred, feath­ered, stalked in the morn­ing and raided at night.

The idols of the strike ac­tion made sure the grubby ro­dents ( am­a­gund­wane ), as they are called, never slept peacefully in their hos­tels af­ter be­tray­ing the cause

The most af­fected hos­tel was no 8 on the south wing of the mine. It is con­sid­ered the crown jewel of am­a­gund­wane .

Those fin­gered as be­tray­ers in­clude the NUM (Na­tional Union of Minework­ers) rep­re­sen­ta­tives, who are said to be on cash re­tain­ers and sell­ing out the work­ers.

In hos­tel no 8 we meet Pa­trick Mot­shabi, a 51-year-old man built like an ac­tion hero, wor­ried but not shaken.

We didn t sleep yes­ter­day (Tues­day). They were onto us,” he says. The whole night was chaotic. They burnt shops and now they don t have food.

They are starv­ing now. Go out there and see for your­self.”

On Thurs­day Free­dom Park is still reel­ing. It is clear that the

fox­trot fore­play be­tween the work­ers and the em­ployer isn t go­ing to be an easy one to break.

The bosses won t back down on the fact that the strike is il­le­gal but the work­ers hold fast to their de­mand of R9 000 (af­ter de­duc­tions) be­fore they ll re­turn to work.

Im­promptu meet­ings are am­pli­fied in pid­gin fanakalo on the rail­way tracks that di­vide the shacks and RDP houses of this small com­mu­nity.

It s all male bravado, with the strik­ers com­mit­tee rep­re­sen­ta­tives chore­ograph­ing ev­ery minute of it. R10 notes are do­nated to­ward the ac­qui­si­tion of a lawyer.

But the fact that the strike is not in the spirit or let­ter of the con­sti­tu­tion is con­firmed by Cosatu gen­eral sec­re­tary Zwelinz­ima Vavi, who ar­rives in the evening and pleads with the work­ers to re­con­sider their ac­tions.

I bow down and beg you to re­con­sider com­rades,” he says in isx­hosa to the crowd gath­ered at Impala sports ground.

I know a fight that is winnable but this one isn t. This doesn t mean Im a coward. If you re not

’ ’ pro­tected by the law your fight is weak. The em­ployer says the law sup­ports him and the fact is that the strike is il­le­gal. He went to court and got an “in­ter­dict. He says he has the right to fire you. What I m try­ing to say

’ to you is that you broke the agree­ment of labour re­la­tions... The em­ployer dis­crim­i­nated “against us, pro­voked us, stuck a fin­ger in our eyes, sep­a­rated us, made us fight among our­selves and called his cops on us. The em­ployer must fix what “he started,” he said to ap­plause. Ev­ery­one must be al­lowed to “go back to work. This in­cludes the com­mit­tee. They should not be dis­crim­i­nated against. When work­ers re­turn to their “jobs they should all get the ben­e­fits and the con­di­tions must be as they were be­fore they started to strike. Let me as­sure you that to­mor“row we are go­ing to meet man­age­ment and the CEO of the mine. One of the things we are go­ing “to talk about is that work­ers should not be sep­a­rated and that work­ers should be al­lowed to go back to work. This means ev­ery­one.”

But some work­ers went home won­der­ing if Vavi was there to ac­tu­ally twist the knife.

One of the com­mit­tee mem­bers Bata­lala Siqobolo, said they would never go back to work un­less their de­mands are met.

GET­TING REVVED UP: Strik­ing min­ers gather for a meet­ing out­side the Impala Plat­inum mine in Rusten­burg, 120 km north­west of Joburg.

Picture by Tsheko Kabasia

TIRED: Pa­trick Mot­shabi hasn’t been get­ting much sleep with all the chaos go­ing on around him.

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