Miners reject Lonmin wage offer

Proposed R900 increase is far off the workers demands

Strikers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine rejected a pay offer on Friday, dashing any hope of ending five weeks of industrial action that has swept through South Africa’s platinum sector and laid bare the power struggle in the ruling ANC.

Workers camped on a rocky outcrop at the mine, where police shot dead 34 protesters last month, dismissed the offer as way below the 12,500 rand they have been demanding.

“We are not interested,” striker representative Molifi Phele said as hundreds of stick-waving demonstrators chanted and danced around him on the sun-bleached grass in the heart of the 'platinum belt', 100km northwest of Johannesburg. “What he is offering cannot buy you anything. All we want is 12,500.”

National Union of Mineworkers general secretary Frans Baleni said that Lonmin had offered striking workers a R900 increase to R5,500 a month for entry-level workers, “very far” from their demand of R12,500,

“Lonmin is offering to adjust the rate of entry-level [workers] from R4,600 towards R5,500, an increase of about R900. Then all operators will be upgraded, by one grade up,” Baleni told the BBC World Service radio Newsday programme.

The Aug. 16 “Marikana Massacre” has poisoned industrial relations across the mining sector and turned the spotlight on the alliance between big unions and the ruling African National Congress.

This year’s rapid rise of the militant Association of Mining and Construction Workers (AMCU), based on a push for huge wage hikes, has presented an unprecedented threat to a status quo under which established unions ensure industrial stability with more modest wage increases for workers.

President Jacob Zuma, who faces an internal ANC leadership election in December, has vowed to crack down on anybody inciting further unrest, but his handling of the troubles has at times appeared flat-footed and wooden.

Meanhwile, ANC renegade and silver-tongued populist Julius Malema has seized on the crisis to promote himself as a champion of the millions of black South Africans whose lives have changed little since apartheid ended 18 years ago. The Youth League leader, expelled from the ANC this year for ill-discipline, has emerged as the face of a de facto “Anyone but Zuma” campaign gathering steam as Nelson Mandela’s 100-year-old liberation movement grinds towards its leadership conference at the end of the year near the central city of Bloemfontein.

“People who believe that Malema does not present a danger to South Africa have missed the point,” said Richard Farber, a fixed income trader at Johannesburg brokerage Worldwide Capital.

“It is his ideology that presents the danger and that is gathering momentum.”

In the face of unrest spiralling into gold mines near Johannesburg, Zuma told parliament on Thursday the government would crack down on anybody stirring up more labour trouble, but stopped short of explicitly naming Malema.

Besides Lonmin, several thousand men have downed tools at top world producer Anglo American Platinum, which was forced to close its four Rustenburg mines this week after they were targeted by columns of stick- and machete-waving marchers.

The price of platinum, a precious metal used in jewellery and vehicle catalytic converters, has spiked more than 20% since the Marikana shootings amid fears of prolonged disruption to supplies.

South Africa is home to 80% of known supplies.

Even though the wage offer was rejected, Lonmin shares rose 5,5% on the back of another jump in the platinum price following the announcement of more US economic stimulus.