South Africa Must Fix Apartheid Mining Practices, Union Says

  • Increase in worker skills, end to migrant-labor system needed
  • Industry can't modernize unless past addressed, leader says

The mining industry in South Africa, the world’s biggest platinum producer and source of about a third of all gold mined, can’t move forward unless it fixes apartheid-era conditions for workers, said Joseph Mathunjwa, president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

Along with higher wages, starting at 12,500 rand ($952) in basic pay each month, companies must increase employees’ skills and end the migrant labor system that split families, said Mathunjwa.

The AMCU became the largest union in South Africa’s platinum industry after police killed at least 34 protesters at Lonmin Plc in a single day in 2012 and has grown to become the second-biggest in gold. It led a record five-month strike among platinum workers last year, crippling output by the world’s three largest producers of the metal.

"You cannot modernize mining unless you address the ills of the past," Mathunjwa said in a panel discussion with Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd., the world’s No. 2 producer of the metal, at a conference in Johannesburg. The living and working conditions for black mineworkers haven’t much changed since apartheid, or white-minority rule that ended in 1994, he said.

Under apartheid, cheap black labor was used to build the economy, with workers living in single-sex hostels. Most of the miners were migrants from distant provinces such as the Eastern Cape and neighboring countries.

"There’s nothing left in the locker," Mathunjwa said. "Now is the time for you companies to pay back the workers."

The AMCU is the only union not to sign a wage agreement with gold companies, and received a mandate from members to strike earlier this month. The union is awaiting the outcome of a court process to see if it can strike at AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. and Harmony Gold Mining Co. while it’s still in negotiations with Sibanye Gold Ltd.

Neal Froneman, chief executive officer of Sibanye, said the company won’t increase its pay offer but will engage with AMCU on other issues.

Sibanye "cannot prescribe to us how they want engagement to be," Mathunjwa said.