18 September 2012
South African President Jacob Zuma has once again appealed for peace to return to the Marikana mining area in North West province following weeks of violent protests.
Addressing the national congress of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in Johannesburg on Monday, Zuma said worker rights were enshrined in the Constitution, and added that there was legislation giving effect to the constitutional provisions. But he urged workers to respect the country’s laws.
He reminded the gathering of South Africa’s biggest trade union federation that employers and employees had the mechanisms to manage relations in the workplace. There was no need to resort to violence.
Zuma said the judicial commission of inquiry he had appointed would establish the facts around what happened in Marikana last month when 34 protesting miners were killed in clashes with police, a week after 10 people had died, including two police officers, in ongoing violence among rival unions.
Violence ‘cannot become labour culture’
“But there are a few immediate lessons,” Zuma said. “Firstly, we have to find a way to restore workplace stability and labour peace. Violence cannot become a culture of our labour relations.”
He said workers and employers needed to use the laws of the country, which spelt out clearly how to handle disputes.
“Given the levels of violence and intimidation in Marikana, government deployed law enforcement agencies to stabilise the situation. This does not take away the rights of miners and residents to protest, peacefully and unarmed, as provided for in the laws of the land,” said Zuma.
The agencies had been told to be firm, but to respect the rights of residents and strikers.
This applied not only to labour disputes but also to service delivery protests, which were at times also accompanied by violence, including the destruction of property.
Workers at Lonmin platinum mine are demanding a basic salary of R12 500 a month with employers last week offering a R900 increase to the current R4 600 entry level salary.
Impact on the economy
In his speech, Zuma urged the workers and their employers to find solutions to the dispute without further delay, given its ongoing impact on the economy.
He said indications were that the total rand value of production lost in the gold and platinum group of mines due to work stoppages over the past nine months was close to R4.5-billion. Losses in the coal sector, adds another R118-million to the total.
The National Treasury estimates that through its indirect impact on the economy, the strike actions in addition to other stoppages have already subtracted close to R3.1-billion from the national fiscus.
The impact went beyond the mining sector. The manufacturing sector, especially the fabricated metal products sector, was already showing signs of strain.
“We cannot afford to go into a recession, and revert to the 2008 and 2009 period where the country lost close to a million jobs, which we are still battling to recover,” Zuma said. “We wish the employers and workers well as they seek a solution to this wage impasse.”
The government would continue to provide support to the negotiations through the ministry of labour, Zuma added.
Housing and living conditions of workers
According to the Mining Charter, mining companies are required to improve the housing and living conditions of workers and also to invest in skills development, employment equity, ownership as well as local community development.
They have to meet certain targets for the conversion and upgrading of single-sex hostels formerly used by migrant labourers into family units or single occupancy accommodation by 2014.
Companies are also expected to facilitate home ownership by 2014.
“Our monitoring indicates that 50% have complied with the provisions relating to improving living conditions,” Zuma said. “We applaud those companies that are complying with this provision to humanise the living conditions of workers.”