Background to South African Marikina mine violence

This article reports on some of the background to the confrontation between workers and police at the Marikina platinum mine owned by Lonmin company that killed over thirty workers and injured almost eighty.
This article is based upon material sent by Patrick Bond to an economics discussion list. The material can be accessed herePatrick Bond is a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he has directed the Centre for Civil Society since 2004.
Bond places responsibility for what he terms a massacre of the miners on a number of different players including the African National Congress government. Bond worked for the South African government earlier in his career but is now quite critical of many of its policies. He also places responsibility on Lonmin for underpaying workers for extremely dangerous work. among other failings.
Rock drillers are paid 500 dollars U.S. a month. Many drillers leave because the pay is not competitive for such dangerous work and those who stay are angry especially at the National Union of Mineworkers(NUM). According to Bond this union has been co-opted by the company. Union officials receive perks and are increasingly seen by workers as part of the power structure.
Ms. Polgreen, The Times’s Johannesburg bureau chief, reports that “the strike has pitted the country’s largest mine workers union, which is closely allied with the governing A.N.C., against a radical upstart union demanding sharp increases in pay and faster action to improve the grim living and working standards for miners.” The conflict between the traditional union, the National Union of Mineworkers, and the newer and more radical union, the Association of Mine Workers and Construction Union, contributed to violence around the strike earlier this week. Ten people died, including two police officers and three security officers
Another factor contributing to the massacre was that the police were not well trained. Rubber bullets and water cannon could have been used. The police opened fire for a full three minutes before the order was given to cease fire. Of course by then dozens were killed. Claims that the miners shot first are at odds with the fact that there are no reports of officers wounded. However there is a video that purports to show a policeman taking a gun from a person on the ground.
Bond points out that Washington is indirectly involved in that the World Bank's International Finance Corporation has reportedly loaned 100 million dollars U.S. to Lonmin to develop the mine. Lonmin itself is not about to let the killing of a few dozen miners interrupt operations. Lonmin has ordered striking workers back to work or be fired. The National Union of Mineworkers tells the workers that they cannot get higher wages and must return at the negotiated rates.
Bond points out that in spite of its sorry record that Lonmin has received a Green Mining award! The IFC of the World Bank justifies its investments as a "key source of jobs, economic opportunities, investments, revenues to government, energy and other benefits for local economies." Documents on the Lonmin load claim:
"This investment is expected to have beneficial results for the workforce and surrounding communities." Indeed, IFC documents state that Lonmin "supports the protection of human life and dignity within their sphere of influence by subscribing to the principles laid down in the United Nation's Declaration of Human Rights."
Yet conditions in surrounding communities are deplorable. Even though Lonmin chairman Roger Phillimore admits to a close relationship with the South African police he said of the violence that it was ""clearly a public order rather than a labor relations associated matter". So the real problem is just keeping order among those restive workers. For much more see the wealth of material here.


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