South African President Jacob Zuma pledged to clamp down on labor-related violence at the country’s mines, saying those responsible could not be allowed to disrupt the economy or tarnish the country’s image.
“Our law-enforcement agencies have been instructed not to tolerate those who commit crime in the name of labor relations,” Zuma said in an address to Parliament in Cape Town today. “They will face the full might of the law.”
Labor unrest that swept across the country’s mines last year and peaked with the killing of 34 protesters by police at Lonmin Plc’s 13-shaft Marikana platinum operation in August, has continued this year, curbing output and economic growth.
Part of the unrest has been blamed on rivalry between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and the National Union of Mineworkers, an ally of the ruling African National Congress that has been unseated as the biggest union at South African operations of the world’s three-largest platinum companies.
The “government does not take sides and does not favor any labor union over others in the mining industry,” Zuma said. “Our interest is in finding solutions. It is not in the interest of the country to have a tense labor-relations environment which is characterized by a weakening of collective-bargaining mechanisms, illegal wildcat strikes, violent protests and loss of life.”
Zuma urged mining companies and unions to speedily conclude annual wage negotiations and act within the law.
Mining strikes last year caused more than 10 billion rand ($1 billion) in lost output and shaved about 0.5 percentage point off gross domestic product, according to the National Treasury. GDP growth slowed to an annualized 0.9 percent in the first quarter, the slowest pace since a 2009 recession.
“The economy continues to grow but at a much slower pace than previously expected,” Zuma said. “This presents challenges for job creation and poverty reduction. There is very little we can do about the global economic crisis, but there are things we can do domestically which can assist to improve the resilience of our economy. I would like to once again implore all of us to put our country first in everything we do.”