The strike in Marikana is over. Workers are preparing to return to work on Thursday and start rebuilding their lives. But why did it take this long? And why did it cost 45 human lives? I took a preliminary look.
“We are happy with the deal,” Hlongwane, a striking mine worker in Marikana, told Daily Maverick over the phone on Tuesday evening. In the background, the sound of cheering and shouting drowned out his voice. The strike that captivated the world, claimed 45 lives and exposed the flimsy underpinnings of a happy South Africa had ended. The strike in Marikana was really over.
“Following an all-inclusive negotiation process involving trade unions and delegates of striking employees, Lonmin is pleased to announce that it has reached a settlement and a return to work has been agreed for Thursday (20th September),” Lonmin said in a statement late on Tuesday.
According to the agreement brokered by President of the SA Council of Churches, Bishop Jo Seoka, rock drill operators will now earn R11,078 a month before deductions, production team leaders R13,022 and operators R9,883. Workers will also receive a once-off bonus of R2,000.
But even as workers prepare to return to work, questions are now being asked about what exactly happened six weeks into the strike to facilitate the agreement.
According to Hlongwane, as an ordinary striking worker, the crackdown by police last Saturday had severely affected the morale of striking workers. “They couldn’t push for more than R11,000 because of what happened on Saturday,” he said.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga, however, believes that the agreement also made financial sense to the strikers. “From the part of the miners as well, the strike was beginning to bite too much into their pockets, so they were backed into a corner, forced to accept this moderate offer,” he said. He adds, however, that the successful negotiation with Lonmin without the custodianship of the ANC-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is also telling of inadequate leadership at the mine and an inability on the part of NUM to communicate with workers effectively. “They have toned down their demands and they have accepted R11,000, which you could say is a moderate offer,” he said. “It is an indictment of the ANC and it is a demonstration of how much can be achieved without the ANC.”
Mathekga believes the deal reached between Lonmin and striking workers was actually a lame offering when compared to the demands for R12,500 that raged stubbornly for weeks. “When I look at the initial demand of R12,500 and what they have actually accepted, it’s not an extraordinary deal. It could have been reached in normal circumstances, but it was not,” he says.
Crispen Chingulo, a researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand whose PhD explores rising dissent in the platinum industry, disagrees that the strike ended with a lacklustre deal.
“It is quite a lot,” he says. “The workers were very close to what they wanted. The initial demand was for R12,500, and R11,000 is not far from that.”
Chingulo, however, feels the results of the wage agreement reached at Lonmin’s Marikana operation may soon have effects on other platinum mines in the region.
“To the other workers in the industry, it may mean if you want an increase, you have to be militant; you have to fight for it,” he says. “What happens next depends on other employees in the platinum mining industry.” The final say on how the Lonmin deal will affect other platinum mines will, however, be determined by mine owners and not workers. “I think mine owners have to come together to look at a generalised bargaining system in the platinum mining industry,” he advises.
Chingulo stresses, however, that this strike was not only directed at Lonmin. It was also a strike against the perception that workers were being represented inadequately.
“This strike was not only against management, it was also a protest against the union,” he says.
Mathekga also believes NUM emerges from the Marikana strike with a badly bruised reputation. “The legitimacy of NUM has been dented severely,” he says.
“To me, it looks like in circumstances where NUM is not involved, workers have a better chance of succeeding with their demands. If you look at the nature of this agreement, you have a watered-down agreement that was reached without the historical stakeholders,” Mathekga says.
He believes that the Marikana deal may actually spell doom for structures like NUM. “I’m foreseeing some circumventing of unions and doing without them,” he explains.
“[NUM] has to look at how it can represent their members better during wage negotiations and how they can win back the confidence of their members,” Chingulo says.
It is, of course, not only NUM that has taken a beating in the last six weeks in Marikana. President Zuma, government and the ANC were unable to take a decisive lead in steering negotiations, or appealing for calm without the aid of the police and the armed forces.
“Marikana shows that the executive is only able to react by showing its authority [with the army and the police] without gaining the trust of the people,” Mathekga says. “This strike has ended, but the trust of government is still at its lowest.”
“The government was unable to put aside its internal differences. Here I’m talking about all the factions within the ANC: pro-Zuma, anti-Zuma and whoever else; the wrongness that unites them in responding to Marikana. They showed they cannot put aside their differences for the interests of others,” he explains.
“They emerge from this looking very selfish.”
It is President Zuma, however, that may be worst off after the conclusion of the strike.
“Jacob Zuma’s enemies have gathered more arsenal against him,” Mathekga says. “Things like the decision to deploy the army – it points to a mishandling of the situation. His enemies now have more evidence of a lack of leadership under his presidency.
“As a leader, he’s going to enter [Mangaung] in the same way Mbeki entered Polokwane, on the back foot,” he predicts.
Chingulo’s predictions are reserved for the future of industrial relations in the country.
“What we saw was that the existing institutions did not have the capacity to deal with problems [in the mining industry],” he explains.
“The end of the strike means a lot, not only to the mining industry but to the whole country. We need to reflect on where we have come from. This strike highlights the fact that nothing much has changed in the mining industry.
“We must ask ourselves now: have the conditions of workers really improved, 18 years after attaining democracy?” he adds.
“It is a turning point in industrial relations in South Africa,” Chilungo concludes, the din of the Cosatu conference raging unperturbed in the background. DM