South African Labor Minister Mildred Oliphant will extend talks with unions in a bid to stem violence that has seen two organizers from rival groups shot dead in the world’s largest platinum-producing area within a month.
Oliphant met union leaders yesterday and will arrange further negotiations, said Musa Zondi, her spokesman. “The shootings are tragic and law enforcement agencies should move to ensure that perpetrators are brought to book,” Zondi said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The minister yesterday called on union leaders to show necessary leadership and deal with inter-union issues.”
A local organizer for the National Union of Mineworkers was killed and a second wounded yesterday in a shooting near Lonmin Plc’s Marikana mine northwest of Johannesburg. The latest attacks precede wage negotiations in the platinum, gold and coal-mining industries that are due to start this month.
Violence has surrounded competition between the NUM, an ally of the ruling African National Congress, and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which has grown in the last year to represent the majority of employees at Lonmin, the world’s third-largest platinum producer.
The government needs to take stronger action when violence occurs at mines, including revoking the licenses of unions if they’re linked to incidents and quicker prosecution, NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni said in a phone interview. “You can’t operate on the basis of violence and intimidation.”
Mawethu Khululekile Stevens, 46, an organizer for the AMCU, was shot dead May 11 at a tavern near the Marikana mine, about 70 miles (120 kilometers) from Johannesburg, the union said last month.
“Everyone is cognizant that this is a delicate and fragile peaceful situation,” said Sue Vey, a spokeswoman for Lonmin. The company is doing all it can to provide security for its workforce, she said.
The killings of about nine NUM members since last year have failed to lead to any arrests, Baleni said. He also criticized safety steps taken by mining companies, following yesterday’s shootings.
Jimmy Gama, treasurer for the AMCU and a spokesman, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone seeking comment.
“Unions, mining houses should go into negotiations in good faith,” Zondi said. The mineral resources department will be on hand to help resolve deadlocks through the country’s Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, he said.
The NUM has until July 16 to regain its majority among the Lonmin workforce or lose its office and associated rights, a Johannesburg labor court has ruled.
“The right to freedom of association is one that is enshrined within the South African constitution and labor law -- we should all seek to protect that right and, should this require the support of peace-keeping mechanisms as proposed by Minister Oliphant, we would welcome that,” Elize Strydom, chief negotiator for producers at the Chamber of Mines, said by e-mail.
Eight members of the NUM face disciplinary action by Lonmin for altering the details of some employees’ union-membership, according to Vey.
The AMCU represents 70 percent of workers in lower-skilled jobs at Lonmin, while the NUM speaks on behalf of 20 percent.