The African National Congress (ANC)’s former national youth leader Julius Malema, has called for a national strike in South Africa’s mining sector, stirring fear of an escalation in the labour unrest already buffeting the platinum and gold industries in the continent’s largest economy. The flagship sector has been hit by a walkout that culminated in mid-August in violence between striking miners and police that killed 44 people. Of these, 34 were miners shot in a single day by police at the Marikana mine of Lonmin, the world’s No. 3 platinum producer.
The so-called “Marikana massacre” has brewed a political storm for President Jacob Zuma and his ANC government. Detractors accuse them of neglecting the working masses who fought and shed blood to help achieve the end of white-minority apartheid rule in 1994. The industrial trouble rocking the platinum belt has spread to gold, with a second illegal strike in as many weeks at a mine run by world No. 4 bullion producer Gold Fields, where 15,000 workers downed their tools on Sunday night.
“There must be a national strike in all the mines,” Malema, who has previously led calls for the nationalisation of South Africa’s mines, told Gold Fields strikers on Tuesday at a stadium in Carletonville west of Johannesburg. Malema was expelled from the party earlier this year for indiscipline. A skilful political operator with a populist touch, he and other opponents of Zuma have been trying to use the mine unrest to pressure the president ahead of an AN leadership conference in December.
The labour upheaval is damaging the ruling ANC’s claim to be a champion of worker interests, even as it tries to promote stable growth in the world’s top platinum-producing state. There was no end in sight to the month-long strike that has paralysed Lonmin after thousands of protesters armed with sticks and machetes marched in a show of force on Monday, vowing to hunt and kill strike-breakers.
The few workers who wanted to report for duty at Lonmin’s Karee mine on Tuesday were asked to stay away for their own safety as strikers gathered nearby, said Gideon du Plessis, deputy secretary general of the trade union Solidarity. “The strikers started intimidating people very early this morning and so the area around the Karee mine was declared unsafe,” he told Reuters. Plans for talks to end the impasse looked set to collapse with the independent mediator having planned to withdraw at 1400 GMT if the workers had not returned to their shifts by then.