AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

The platinum strike led by new trade union Association of Mining and Construction Workers Union (AMCU), is now over four months long, making it the longest strike in the history of South Africa. The majority of the country’s English language newspapers depict the strike as a result of the greedy and unethical leadership of AMCU who have placed the country’s economy in jeopardy through lying to the miners about the viability of their wage demand of R12,500 or US$1,250. But frankly this is bullshit: the strike is a direct result of the state massacre of workers at Marikana and a mining industry which still maintains the same colonial structure of the industry. This interview was conducted with a worker-leader from Marikana, who was shot during the massacre, such voices are not found in the South African media and as you can see, the workers know perfectly well what they are doing. 

Could you give some background to the ongoing strike, and explain the factors that led to the continuing mass action?

The undermining by employers, by not coming to (fulfilling) their offer that the workers in 2012 died for. Impala, Anglo and Lonmin, the bosses of those three companies don’t want to pay what they promised the workers who passed away in 2012. They undermine the deals they committed to, and that’s why we said, ‘no, we want to go to strike now’ – because since 2012 till now, there has been no money.

I think it’s important to point out the demand comes from the workers from 2012 rather than being from AMCU – this is a 2012 demand.

Exactly.

So, we are now three months into the strike. From what I’ve heard, the conditions for the workers are quite bad right now; it’s not about the money and people are getting quite hungry and desperate. Are people still fighting? Are they ready to carry on with this?

If you recall what happened in 2012, [the strike] was organised by the workers without any organisation. Then the strike turned violent, and [some] people were not conducting themselves in a [humane] manner.. So workers have now decided to join this union, AMCU. They think that within AMCU, the government and the company will respond positively because now they are more organised and within their correct structures – which [the companies were asking for]. Workers behaved very well; no one has been killed. But it’s those elements, whereby workers are provoked by the police or Lonmin, [and the workers get] uncontrollable because [the companies] are labelling us, saying that we have done this and that, which we haven’t done.

On the other side of hunger and everything, there’s no such hunger to workers. Workers are never going to be hungry because, as they are away from their own rural areas, as they work in mines, they take their money back home to buy cattle [and] sheep, and they are farmers. They’ve got their own money; they cultivated their own land, which means they do have their own reserves. The company [can] call about their reserves, but even [the companies] themselves, they have reserves. So it’s not a matter of food. But they are saying that our salaries are being affected by R 5000 or R 4 000, [and] that we have not eaten in the past three months, but they are talking about [losing] billions. It is something that is new to us. We never knew that we make that much when we go underground – that’s why we cannot turn back on our demand of R 12 500.

And, two, if anyonesays that workers are suffering – it’s not [only] about workers because there are billions, which means the whole nation is suffering. This matter is a matter of public interest. It does not concern the workers in mining alone.

So the question that follows is, how does it feel, knowing that you and your comrades have stopped billions of rands for the bosses? Do you think they’re feeling it now?

The other side we never experienced, but we have them by the balls. What’s happened, you can see, is I’m getting fitter now because I cannot go underground. I’m becoming healthier. These people have done this to our own forefathers, whereby they were enslaving our forefathers. Now we can go and change our minds now because that total of R 500 is nothing. Maybe we decide to demand R 15 000, because what we are now demanding is nothing, it’s peanuts. We will ask for R 15 000 if they just continue behaving like this.

How have the police been behaving in the strike? Have they been targeting comrades, have they been harassing people? Do you feel that the police are trying to break the strike up? I heard about what happened to some comrades at Amplats who got arrested.

When we’re talking about police, we’re talking about people who cannot use their own mind. They are being controlled by certain people in government to do things that they cannot even themselves imagine they have done as humans. They are being controlled, so we are not going to be threatened by people who we know are not acting of their own accord but are assigned by certain people because they are trained. So to us, they are like dogs; they’re taught to feed and not bite the hand that’s feeding them. Currently, they’re just taking certain leaders, arresting them, thinking that are those people are the ones instigating the strike. It’s not about one individual; you can kill one worker, you can arrest 20 leaders, but you’re talking about thousands of workers on strike who are actually responsible.

And by arresting someone or some among them, you are boosting the miners because there’s attention on us, it is being seen that we are doing something. Then, if they’re not arresting anyone, maybe it will demoralise us because no one will notice what is happening. Arresting someone motivates the spirit of the workers. They arrest them, they release them, still the strike continues. It doesn’t work, this thing that they are targeting certain people, because it’s not those certain people [causing the strike]. Even if you arrest us all or you kill us all, we’ll never change our demand of wanting the money that we want.

What had Lonmin been doing – had it been making threats to workers, had it been been trying to bribe people?

Lonmin is very clever; they are using our black people as their own frontees; you’ll find [Lonmin CEO] Ben Magara, you’ll find Cyril Ramaphosa putting these shares, they are being used because of their education – they’re thinking that the workers are not educated, so they can fool us. The matter of doing things is not in the matter of education, it’s the matter of the mind and conscience, if you have a conscience, you have the heart – so you can have degrees and everything but if you don’t have a heart you’ll always be a stupid person. It doesn’t mean that if you have been educated you are clever. Anyone can be educated.

So our ancestors were not educated but they were able to understand by the needs of what’s supposed to be done to live a life in this country without anyone being suppressed or being exploited – because this politics that we are in, it wasn’t started by current politicians; it has been fought by people who never attended any school. But what Lonmin specifically has done was to call certain leaders and certain workers to them and offer them 15%. We’re not taking that shit of 15%; we know that we want. Tell them if they want to talk to us we must talk about R12 500, not about 15%.

And, secondly, Lonmin is writing to the papers and circulating all that propaganda saying, no, it has agreed with AMCU and that they are prepared to pay workers in rands and cents, which is not more than R 10 000. We’ll not take the instructions from the employers, we want the instructions from our own official’s unions, especially leaders whom we trust – they’re supposed to deliver the message to us. The message cannot be delivered by the management to us. That’s the tactics that the company is using. There are people who died for this R12 500, and the union has taken the mandate of the people that they want 100% of this money.

I personally feel this is quite a historic strike. I feel like this strike is really the workers making a stand against all the problems in the mining industry that has been there for years, in which this money is going overseas to people in London rather than to the workers and people in South Africa. So it’s really, even though much of South Africa needs to support the workers, a strike that is a historical stand against what’s happened before. Would you agree with this?

I 100% agree with your opinion because as I speak to you currently I’ve got my own grandfather who is still alive. He was injured in forehead “the table”, as we call it underground, and he’s still injured. We live poor as South Africans; these mineral resources belong to us. These mineral resources are enriching other people in other countries. So as the current generation, we are saying that enough is enough, this cannot happen to our forefathers and still to us. We want to put a stop to it. This old man [his grandfather] cannot see anymore; he was dismissed because of the injury.

What organizations have been helping the workers with the strike? And what can people who want to help the miners and support the strike do?

The first organisation that helped us when we were abandoned by our own union that we elected in the majority of years, the National Union of Mineworkers, was AMCU. That’s the first organisation that we need to praise with its own president who has never changed our real demand, a total of R 12 500.

We cannot shy away from the fact that since the beginning of the massacre, we have been with the Marikana Support Campaign. All the comrades who are within the Marikana Support Campaign are supporting us. Even now, whenever we are arrested, whenever we go to the [Farlam] commission, they are around us – they are doing everything that they can to support us. Those are the two organizations that I will mention.

Currently we are just observing the moves of The Citizens for Marikana. They promised to assist us but haven’t so far showed how they are going to assist us, in what way. But they have said that they are coming.

And the fourth that I will never ever forget is the community members in Marikana – they are behind us. Those community members and community organisations, such as Sikhula Sonke, are the people behind our plea.

What we can be assisted with is that we need all the social movements behind us, they’ll see the way that we see things. We know that the people we are fighting are using the same amount that they are taxing us to fight us. So that’s why we need to unite – all the organisations need to unite – to fight the union bosses and the state. You see, now the state is in the middle of the workers and is supporting the side of the capitalists.  So when any support, even 10 cents is contributed towards the strike, it helps us because we can’t turn away from those who cannot manage to have their own reserves. They feel the hunger because that’s the only strategy the companies can use, to hit us on the hunger : – any support and solidarity among the workers in all the organisations that think that it’s a historic fight.

How do you feel about the elections next month? Are you voting?

In my own view I will say that this shows all workers should go and vote but their vote much be tactical to reduce the power of the ANC. We must deal with the ANC once and for all and make sure that we take all the power from them. But they must know very well the person who they’re going to vote, when they do decide. We instruct that leader on what’s expected of them. So when they disappoint again because we need to have control over the people  we elect so that they can deliver to us what we demand, because if we do not do that we’ll always be in the games of the other people, and other people will play the game that is supposed to be played by us. So this is our game because while it has been led by Jacob Zuma and Ramaphosa and Riah Phiyega …

Phiyega is worse because we expected women to be better people because we know that they are the ones who carry us for nine months as human beings. But that woman, the way she acts, she’s not a woman. So that’s what we need to do because of the current situation.

How do you feel about the Farlam Commission and how do you think it’s gone so far? I personally don’t think anyone’s going to get convicted but it seems like a lot of evidence is coming out showing the degree to which the bosses are involved in all the shady stuff.

What is annoying me with the commission currently is that it is clear, revealed by the work that has been done by documentary that was produced by Uhuru Production with the team within the Marikana Support Campaign, what happened. But now there’s this witness called Mr X. It’s annoying what we’ve been witnessing in the commission but this guy is going to be faceless. And this guy is admitting that he has killed people; that he’s a murderer. Why can this guy not show his face? And the worst part of it, you are very educated, you know that most of the people in the public say that X can testify; X is called to something. But why were we just told that Mr X is going to be faceless after he admitted that he has the tongue of the human being who he killed? He had testified that he slaughtered the black sheep and buried it in the mountain. We are saying this guy, if it’s true that he was there, they must and go search in all mortuaries and find the body without the tongue. They must go to the mountain and dig the bones of that sheep. And there’ll be a DNA test that will show that how old the bones that were buried are because there are scientists who are educated. That’s where we will show that that Mr X is not telling the truth about what happened at the mountain. There was no such a thing that we have done.

And, thirdly, which is very important, the killer admitting that he is a killer. We are saying we are not killers but yet this guy cannot be arrested. He can sleep in a smart hotel and do anything. Why should the commissioner allow such [a witness – unclear]? And we are fearing for the lives of the people who can be killed and are worrying about this thing. What about the people who have been with this thing? They’re not afraid of their own lives.

* This interview is reprinted here with permission from Amandla Magazine.

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Benjamin Fogel

Benjamin Fogel is the assistant editor of Amandla Magazine. Currently based in Cape Town, he is a journalist with a particular interest in labour and political journalism. You can follow him on Twitter: @BenjaminFogel.

2 thoughts on “Don’t believe the media hype about striking mine workers in South Africa

  1. Could you explain why when I was listening to SAFM the strike bosses (ie AMCU) called in and told the whole country that they are there for the R15 000. They had about half an hour national airtime and the word, “Markiana” was not used once.

  2. “On the other side of hunger and everything, there’s no such hunger to workers. Workers are never going to be hungry because, as they are away from their own rural areas, as they work in mines, they take their money back home to buy cattle [and] sheep, and they are farmers.”

    Ah – so the workers do in fact own land and wealth.

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