Violence and death mar Amcu’s strike at Sibanye
Amcu’s violent strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold mines, which has left one person dead, could spread to the company’s platinum mines
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has no immediate intention of calling off its strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold mines, despite high levels of violence in which a miner was shot dead on Wednesday night.
The strike to protest for higher wages despite a settlement signed with three other unions to agree a three-year contract would be extended to Sibanye’s platinum mines around Rustenburg in a sympathy strike, which was within Amcu’s rights, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said on Thursday.
He blamed the violence, which has included shootings, stabbings and beatings at the Beatrix, Kloof and Driefontein gold mines, on Sibanye and its security personnel as a mechanism to seek a court interdict against the protected strike, and to protect production.
Mathunjwa said the company had set rival unions against each other and that security personnel discriminated against Amcu members.
"We are not fighting anybody. It's too early to say we will call off the strike. It's not us at fault," he said at a hastily convened media conference to address violence around the strike.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the rival union displaced by Amcu as a dominant union on the platinum belt and at a number of gold mines, said the miner shot dead was one of their members at the Beatrix mine in the Free State — a fact confirmed by Sibanye.
The man was shot six times and succumbed to his wounds.
Mathunjwa said the death was “regrettable” but that he had called on Amcu members not to be provoked to violence because that would assist Sibanye’s plans to interdict the strike.
Sibanye secured an interdict against both unions, ordering them to stop acts of violence, preventing employees from going to work and interfering with the running of the gold mines, said company CEO Neal Froneman.
“The safety of our employees is our primary concern and we are hopeful that the levels of intimidation and violence affecting our operations since the strike began will reduce and we can avoid further tragic incidents,” he said.
Sibanye has stopped night shifts at its gold mines to reduce the potential for violence at a time when policing and security are difficult to enforce.
Amcu had written to police minister Bheki Cele and mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe asking for their intervention in the strike, and had written to the NUM's leadership appealing for calm and peace, because all workers would benefit from the higher wages Amcu was striking for, he said.
The strike has come as the Competition Tribunal has given conditional approval for Sibanye's takeover of world number three platinum miner Lonmin, a deal Amcu vehemently opposes because it argues that 13,000 jobs will be lost.
Mathunjwa told Business Day that the Lonmin deal and the gold strike were “completely unrelated” and that Amcu would take Sibanye and Lonmin “head on” to stop the transaction from concluding early in 2019.
Sibanye’s gold mines have reported a tough year, with 21 deaths in the first six months of 2018, and as a result unprofitable production. Any protracted strike would raise the prospect of restructuring of the gold division which employs 32,200 people. Amcu represents 15,000 of those employees.
Sibanye agreed with three other unions to increase wages of the lowest-paid workers by R700 a month in the first two years of the deal and R825 a month in the third year. Amcu refused to sign the deal and reverted to its demand of a R1,000 a month increase.
Froneman has said that Amcu’s national leadership had intervened in the negotiations and scuppered the talks.
CORRECTION: November 22 2018
An earlier version of this story has been corrected to reflect that there were 21 deaths in the first six months of 2018, not 2017.