Strikes in South Africa have spread in the gold mining industry, inspired by an illegal and violent work stoppage that netted workers at a platinum mine as much as a 22 percent pay hike.
Miners at AngloGold Ashanti’s Kopanang mine, which employs 5,000 people and produced about 4 percent of AngloGold Ashanti’s total production in the first half of this year, started striking during the night shift on Thursday.
The walkout continued into Friday. Company spokesman Alan Fine said the company has not yet received demands from the strikers, or any communication from them on why they are striking. National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said that it is meeting with AngloGold miners who are seeking a pay raise and encouraging them to return to work. But miners are increasingly rejecting the union and are selecting their own representatives to press demands with mining companies.
In recent weeks South Africa’s rabble-rousing politician Julius Malema has outspokenly encouraged the wildcat mining strikes. On Friday, his lawyer confirmed that the government has issued an arrest warrant for him.
“Yes, I have met with my client and we are busy engaging with the authorities over this,” said lawyer Niqcui Glaktiou. “I do not have a copy of the warrant and I don’t know what the charges are.” She added that the arrest warrant had been expected by Malema.
Malema, who was expelled from the ruling African National Congress, has spoken to cheering miners and told them that they have been let down by President Jacob Zuma’s government and the ANC.
The National Union of Mineworkers, or NUM, is also in talks with the nearly 15,000 miners for Gold Fields near Carletonville who entered their 12th day of strikes. Miners there have said they want a monthly salary of 12,500 rands ($1,500), as London-registered Lonmin PLC gave to its striking platinum miners this week, and new leadership. The miners also want NUM branch leaders to step down.
Sven Lunsche, spokesman for Gold Fields, said the salary demand is beyond the company’s means and the union spokesman said local union leaders could not be simply made to step down.
“If they want to recall or remove them they must follow proper procedure, by having a vote of no confidence, or telling us the allegations and we will launch an investigation,” Seshoka said.
Workers at several mines have complained that the NUM is not doing enough for them, of cozying up to management and being more interested in its business interests and politics than the shop-floor needs of its members.
The Lonmin deal came after weeks of violence and negotiations between the company, several unions and miners who did not have representation. “The outcome … will have a negative impact, having workers say maybe we should negotiate for ourselves, because we can get the owners of the companies to work with us,” Seshoka said.
Lunsche said that the gold mining industry deals only through collective bargaining and would not be able to meet the financial demands being placed on them by striking miners. He said that many of the miners’ complaints lay with their NUM leadership.
“It’s been a worrying trend in the industry, particularly since all of these issues have gone beyond the collective bargaining forum,” he said. “They are happening outside what has been an established as an orderly forum.”
Some Anglo American Platinum miners have also been on strike. Leaders from each shaft have been voted on to represent the workers instead of the union, said two of those leaders.
“We are no longer with the NUM because we saw that they are failing us,” said Alathus Modrsane, who said he is one of 40 leaders.
Miners for the Lonmin PLC platinum mine returned to work Thursday after a nearly six-week strike. The spread of labor unrest has affected investor confidence in the country that produces 75 percent of world platinum and is the No. 4 chrome producer and the fifth-biggest gold producer. South Africa produces 7 percent of the world’s production of gold, a significant decline from its production of 67 percent of the world’s gold in 1970, said Ross Norman of brokerage firm Sharps Pixley. The price of gold Friday hit a peak of $1,787 an ounce Friday, but lowered to about $1,777 as the day progressed.
Also Friday, the country’s Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said that South Africa’s commission of inquiry into the killings during the Lonmin strike at Marikana will have the power to summon witnesses, to search and seize and to demand documentation from other investigations. Police killed 34 miners on Aug. 16 in Marikana, and another 12 were killed on other dates.
Public hearings will be held at the Marikana Hall starting Oct. 1, and transportation will be provided for families wanting to attend, he said.
Ed Brown in Johannesburg contributed to this report.