Echoes of Marikana as Sibanye strike drags on
Fears of more violence after three mineworkers killed
● The buzz of a drone was for a moment the only thing that silenced about 2,000 Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (Amcu) members gathered this week on a hill overlooking Sibanye-Stillwater’s operations in Driefontein, Carletonville.
The drone, belonging to Sibanye, was keeping tabs on the crowd that began protracted strike action on November 21.
On Thursday afternoon Amcu members braved the heat as leaders updated them on salary negotiations. In a move echoing Marikana, strikers sat on the koppie armed with spears, sticks and sjamboks.
Amcu leaders explained to them that the union was not backing down from its demand for a monthly salary of R12,500. “Mayibuye! Imali!” they chanted, adapting an anti-apartheid slogan from “Bring back Africa” to “Bring the money”.
Amcu leaders urged workers to not intimidate others into joining the strike. Three workers have died since the strike began.
James Wellsted, head of investor relations at Sibanye, said the drone was to ensure violence did not erupt where miners had gathered.
Asked how much the strike had cost Sibanye, Wellsted said: “We haven’t yet given those numbers because there’s been quite a lot of variability.” In some operations, some staff were working and in others, because of intimidation, there was a lower turnout.
According to Sibanye, striking entry-level mineworkers have already lost on average R9,000.
However, the costs will be racking up. At competitor Gold Fields the loss in revenue is estimated at R314m since the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) initiated a strike at its South Deep mine last month. It is estimated workers have lost about R98m in wages.
Sibanye has been on an expensive buying spree. Its R5bn acquisition of Lonmin, recently approved by the Competition Tribunal, will make it the world’s secondbiggest platinum producer.
Listed in 2013, the company acquired the Rustenburg operations from Anglo American and Zimbabwe-based Aquarius Platinum in 2016 and US-based Stillwater in 2017.
Among Sibanye’s gold-mining workforce, Amcu represents 43% of employees, while NUM, Uasa and Solidarity represent 49%. This resulted in a deadlock in negotiations. Sibanye struck a deal with NUM, Uasa and Solidarity for a R700-a-month increase in the first and second years and R825 in the third year of a three-year wage deal.
But Tshepo Motloi, Amcu’s Gauteng regional secretary said: “As you know, the majority rules, so the predicament that this company is finding itself in is that there is no majority union.”
Livhuwani Mammburu, NUM national spokesperson, slammed accusations by Amcu that NUM was siding with management in negotiations.
“Those are lies … these negotiations were extremely difficult, until our members gave us an opportunity to sign.”
SA’s mining industry faces the challenges of high costs, power cuts and low global commodity prices, all while the life of many mines is approaching the end. Stats SA’s GDP data released this week show the mining sector contracted 8.8% in the third quarter.
Motloi said mineworkers were saying they were not going to end the strike until they got a reasonable offer on the table.
“A simple example: a loaf of bread costs R15 or R16. If you multiply that, two loaves a day for 30 to 31 days it gets you to R900 and something. So how can you then sign an agreement that is lower than that?”
Motloi said workers were willing to forfeit their December pay and bonuses to get what they felt they deserved.
Mthandazo Makhubalo, a Sibanye mineworker since 2008, said his salary started at R2,900 a month in 2008 and slowly increased to R8,000 with a living-out allowance and R6,000 without the allowance.
“What I would like to say to management is can we please have more money?”
Health and safety concerns have also been raised by the unions, citing long working hours, poor medical aid benefits and tough working conditions.
Twenty-three miners have died this year at Sibanye mines.
The majority rules, so the predicament that this company is finding itself in is that there is no majority union
Amcu Gauteng regional secretary
Amcu members who work for Sibanye-Stillwater gather for a strike update on a koppie near a gold mine in Carletonville, west of Johannesburg.