Peace accord fails to end mining strike

South African workers demand talks on pay before accepting agreement

Alex Duval Smith
Thursday 06 September 2012 22:13 BST
Miners welcome co-workers released from jail yesterday
Miners welcome co-workers released from jail yesterday (AP)

Protesting miners at Lonmin's Marikana mine vowed to continue their strike yesterday, despite the signing of a peace accord between the world's third-largest platinum producer and three trade unions.

The South African government and Lonmin lauded the peace deal, signed in the early hours of yesterday and brokered by church leaders. But the accord was rejected by members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and militant workers' delegates who called the strike on 10 August.

A worker representative, Zolisa Bodlwana, said employees wanted wage-increase negotiations before reporting for duty. "A peace accord will not help us workers in any way. We are not party to that," he said.

The ousted African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema was due to address a rally but heavy rain forced its cancellation. Meanwhile, a further 106 miners were released from police custody with a warning. They had been among 270 arrested after police using live ammunition killed 34 demonstrators and wounded 78 others on 16 August.

Earlier this week, 152 miners were released after a public outcry forced the prosecution to back down on the use of a controversial law to charge them with the murder of their 34 colleagues. Since 10 August, 44 people have been killed at Marikana, including two police officers and two security guards.

The anger of miners released from custody appears to have hardened the resolve of workers calling for a minimum monthly wage of 12,500 rand (£950) – a threefold increase for some. But calls from Mr Malema for a nationwide stoppage have not yet led to co-ordinated strike action across the mining sector.

The acting chairman of Lonmin, Simon Scott, said in a statement yesterday: "Lonmin and the other unions who are part of our bargaining council have agreed to negotiate to address the wage demands within a legal framework and have invited AMCU and a delegation of workers' representatives to take part in the wage discussion."

The peace deal was signed by the biggest union at the mine, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), as well as by two smaller ones. Gideon du Plessis, the general secretary of the Solidarity union, said the agreement required a return to work before the launch of pay talks. "The moment has arrived for AMCU and the striking workers to show whether or not they can function in a peaceful environment," he said.

Having experienced a boom in the years leading up to the 2008 recession, the South African platinum industry – which supplies 80 per cent of the world's demand – is currently in oversupply. More than 20,000 workers have been laid off in the past year.

Lonmin is losing an estimated £2.5m every day there is no production at Marikana. On 16 August, Société Générale said the company may need to raise $1bn in a rights issue by the end of the year.

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