JOHANNESBURG – The African National Congress and its governing partners in South Africa on Friday accused mining companies of stirring up union rivalries at the heart of a violent strike that led police to kill 34 striking miners.
The pointing of fingers and shifting of blame highlights divisions between the ANC and its partners, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions during the run-up to a December ANC congress that will decide the future of South African President Jacob Zuma.
A joint statement Friday accused various companies and employers of "fanning up conflict between the unions and thus, conflict amongst the workers themselves."
It noted that similar union rivalries earlier this year at Implats platinum mine ended with the mine firing all workers and selectively rehiring some on less preferential conditions.
" It is therefore our considered view that employers have an interest in fanning this conflict to reverse the gains achieved by workers over a long period of time," the alliance partners said, accusing the country's platinum industry of following "the story of the power and belief in divide and rule."
The statement makes no reference to striking miners' accusations that shop stewards of the National Union of Mineworkers, the country's largest and politically connected union, are seen as cozying up to management and that leaders of the union are putting politics before shop-floor problems of its members. The Aug. 16 police shootings of more than 100 miners at London-registered Lonmin PLC platinum mine northwest of Johannesburg has raised a national outcry that is still reverberating. Zuma said last week that the state of the mines and plight of mineworkers will be discussed at the December congress. The last such ANC meeting was marked by calls for the mines to be nationalized as the only way to equitably share the country's rich resources.
Breakaway unions that have taken away thousands of NUM members say leading black politicians have been enriched by their shares in mining companies, creating a source of conflict that means they can never fully support the workers' struggle for better conditions.
The NUM is the cornerstone of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, known as C OSATU, and its leaders are spearheading Zuma's bid for re-election as president of the ANC, which would guarantee him another five-year term as president of Africa's richest nation. Yet the secretary general of COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi, is anti-Zuma. Vavi says the violence at the Lonmin mine reflects general anger over poverty and inequality in this nation of 48 million people.
Some blacks have become billionaires under a post-apartheid dispensation that some are now portraying as a successful coopting of blacks by whites who still largely control South Africa's economy. But only a small black elite has benefited, often corruptly, while most South Africans remain mired in poverty and the gap between rich and poor widens.
"We have warned over and over again that South Africa is sitting on a ticking bomb -- the recent Marikana mine massacre was an exploding bomb, sending an alarm signal to us all, saying 'Wake up, do something about this situation,'" Vavi said at the annual summit of the National Economic Development and Labor Council.
The Lonmin strike is thought to have badly damaged the election chances of Zuma rival Cyril Ramaphosa, a former leader of the NUM and now billionaire businessman who has shares in the London-registered Lonmin PLC. Ramaphosa led striking miners in a march 25 years ago that was attacked by police officers supporting the white apartheid regime who shot and killed four miners.
Few in the new South Africa thought they would again see such state-sponsored violence, which looked very much like the government using its power to support big business and against vulnerable workers. South Africans were further shocked when prosecutors charged 270 arrested miners with the murders of their co-workers who were killed by police. The prosecutors, who were using an arcane apartheid-era law that the ANC fought when it was a liberation movement, were forced to retract.
Now citizens are dealing with revelations that some 190 of the arrested miners have laid complaints that they were beaten while in police custody, by officers trying to get the names of miners who had hacked to death two policemen in violence leading up to the shootings. TV stations that had been replaying the Aug. 16 killings now nightly show tales of police brutality meted out to others.
Zuma and officials have cautioned against apportioning blame before a judicial commission of inquiry appointed by the president issues its findings. That inquiry was to report by January but has been delayed by differences over its wide-ranging terms of reference. Lawyers hired to represent the South African Human Rights Commission and some victims and their families indicated Friday that it may need much more time.
Lonmin reported that only 2 percent of its 28,000 work force reported for duty Friday as the strike entered its fourth week. Lonmin said it expects more workers at the shafts on Monday, the day set for a return to work under a peace accord brokered by the Department of Labor and signed by mine managers and the three main unions. But the breakaway union and striking workers who brought the mines to a halt have refused to sign the deal. Strikers say they want Lonmin to agree to their demand for a take-home monthly salary of R12,500 ($1,560) — more than double their current pay.