Miners fought against slave wages

Nthabisang Moreosele

Nthabisang Moreosele

In 1987, the NUM went on strike for better wages and working conditions.

At the time, miners were earning R228 a month. Coal miners earned less than gold miners.

In his book, The History of Black Mineworkers in South Africa, VL Allen wrote that at its fifth national congress, the NUM wanted a 55percent increase. The union also wanted to decrease fortnightly working hours from 102 or 92 hours, to 80 hours.

Miners wanted a 100percent bonus, no overtime, an end to the deferred payments system, June 16 to be made a paid holiday and paying black miners the equivalent of the safety incentive bonus paid to white miners.

Allen wrote: "Finally, it wanted to increase benefits paid to beneficiaries of deceased miners from two to five times the worker's annual earnings."

The Chamber of Mines offered 12,5percent, which amounted to R28,50 compared to the R125,40 the NUM was asking for.

Negotiations broke down and the chamber refused to go for arbitration. Instead, it carried out its own increase in July.

After a lengthy ballot process, the NUM decided to strike. A state of emergency was in force at the time and the NUM had to take that into consideration, though it acted within the Labour Relations Act.

Surprisingly, the apartheid government declared that the strike was a labour affair and took a neutral stance in the matter.

The strike ended after three weeks when some mining houses threatened mass dismissals. Many were dismissed, union gains in safety and working conditions were reversed and mine security was unleashed.