Mine death toll rises as S.Africa’s Malema urges stayaways
The death toll in South Africa's month-long Lonmin platinum strike rose to 45 on Tuesday, as maverick former youth leader Julius Malema urged more stoppages in the vital mining sector.
A man’s hacked body was found at the platinum giant’s Marikana mine, where police last month gunned down 34 strikers in a wildcat stayaway, as the mine unrest over wage demands spread to Gold Fields where 15,000 people have downed tools. Ten more people were killed in other violence.
“A body of a man was found dead,” said police spokesman Thulani Ngubane.
“He seems to have been hit with a sharp object,” he told AFP, after local media reported that the corpse had two gashes in the head.
Tensions have been rising at the mine where workers have refused to return to work since downing tools on August 10 unless the world’s number three platinum producer bows to demands for a wage hike to 12,500 rand ($1,526).
The company said only three percent of its 28,000-strong workforce clocked in, and strongly condemned the intimidation of non-strikers.
“The continuing efforts of a minority to keep the mine closed through threats of violence now pose a real and significant threat to jobs,” it said.
Wage talks between the management and workers were in danger of breaking down, religion-based mediation group Bench Marks Foundation said.
“Fears that the situation in Marikana might deteriorate seem to be coming true with the impasse with the striking Lonmin workers and Lonmin and the CCMA (government mediators) breaking down.”
The workers’ call was taken up by Malema on Tuesday who urged workers at Gold Fields to strike for five days every month until mining giants bow to an across-the-board basic salary demand for the 12,500 rand.
“This is a serious revolution, don’t give up!” Malema told a cheering crowd of around 3,000 at a stadium in Carletonville, west of Johannesburg. “You must render the mines ungovernable.”
Expelled earlier this year from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) for ill-discipline, Malema has capitalised on the mining unrest to push his radical views and to take political shots at his enemy President Jacob Zuma.
Known by the nickname “Juju”, he has no formal union or political affiliation, but has all the same gained popularity among the striking workers in recent weeks and has moved from mine to mine inflaming frustrations.
Once a staunch supporter of Zuma before a fallout as the party’s youth leader, Malema has stated he wants to see the head of state removed from the ANC leadership at forthcoming party elections in December.
The winner of the vote will automatically become the ANC candidate for the 2014 presidential elections and likely be South Africa’s next president.
Malema has not stated any presidential ambitions, but some of the Gold Fields strikers held placards written “President Juju” and “100% Juju”.
Demanding the removal of their local union leadership and asking for tax-free bonuses, the Gold Fields workers downed tools at its KDC mine, 70 kilometres (45 miles) west of Johannesburg.
They carried placards on brown cardboard paper with the inscription “12,500 rand” — the same wage demand that has crippled London-listed Lonmin.
Gold Fields said it was examining the workers’ demands as the strike continued on Tuesday.
“We have had a couple of meetings today, and we are giving them (workers) a response in due course, which is likely to be tomorrow,” Gold Fields spokesman Sven Lunsche told AFP.
The stoppage comes a month after the deadly strike at Lonmin.
Malema, sporting an ANC centenary anniversary shirt and a Che Guevara-style black beret, slammed the leadership of the main National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), accusing them of playing to the whims of the employers while abandoning the workers’ grievances.
“The problem is the leadership who take money from umlungu (whites),” he said.
NUM is the largest single affiliate of Cosatu, the umbrella labour union allied to the ANC.
Cosatu reacted to Malema’s speech with a warning.
“He is playing a dangerous game, exploiting the emotions of angry workers. This can only inflame tensions within the mining industry, flames which he is quite incapable of quenching,” said Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven.