South Africa Miners Celebrate Wage Deal

by
staff
Lonmin platinum miners celebrated a wage deal Wednesday that ended a deadly strike, but labor unrest at a different mine took a violent turn when police broke up what they called an illegal gathering near the town of Rustenburg.

Miners sing and dance after accepting a pay rise in Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. Striking miners have accepted a company offer of a 22% overall pay

Lonmin platinum miners celebrated a wage deal Wednesday that ended a deadly strike, but labor unrest at a different mine took a violent turn when police broke up what they called an illegal gathering near the town of Rustenburg.

"Police asked them to disperse and when they wouldn't, police used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd," said Gauteng province police spokesman Dennis Adriao. "We've said from the start that we would not tolerate illegal gatherings."

The mine near Rustenburg is owned by Anglo American Platinum. Amplats, as the company is known, has earlier claimed its workers were not striking, but that it had shut down operations to ensure their safety against violent threats.

At Marikana, the scene of the protracted strike by Lonmin miners, thousands gathered and sang the national anthem in piercing heat, covering themselves with umbrellas to block the sun. Workers were cheering and laughing as they walked into the Wonderkop stadium in Marikana near the Lonmin mines. Many said they were happy to return to work Thursday under the agreement and that a strike that saw more than 40 killed in August has finally come to an end.

Lonmin agreed to pay a gross of 11,078 rand ($1,385) to rock drill operators who had been demanding a monthly take-home wage of 12,500 rand ($1,560). They also agreed to pay all miners a once-off payment of 2,000 rand ($250). A statement from the company said that miners will receive between 11 and 22 percent wage increases.

"I am so happy," said Mvenyeza Luhlaziyao, 48, a painter at the mines. "I try to forget the past and continue to move forward to build on the company and make it all alright. We must continue to build the company and management must listen to us in the future. People didn't care about us, that's why we decided to go on strike."

Riddick Mofokeng, another miner, said he felt good about the deal.

"It is not what we expected to get, but it is great," he said. "Most of the people, we are ready to go back to work."

Delegates from unions, strikers not represented by unions, and the London-registered company signed the final wage deal late Tuesday night in Mooi Nooi, close to Marikana.

The agreement for the company's 28,000 miners ends a strike with political and economic repercussions, but does not resolve the country's huge economic inequality and the government's failure to address massive unemployment and poverty.