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Workers are losing trust in political leadership and public institutions, says Ramaphosa after being booed

Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union regional chair Thabang Molite addresses members on the wage strike at Sibanye-Stillwater's gold operations outside the Driefontein mine in Carletonville in March. File photo.
Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union regional chair Thabang Molite addresses members on the wage strike at Sibanye-Stillwater's gold operations outside the Driefontein mine in Carletonville in March. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda/Business Day

President Cyril Ramaphosa says the discontent showed by workers who booed and stormed the stage when he was meant to speak on Workers’ Day was an indication of weakening trust in political leadership and public institutions.

He made the remarks in his weekly newsletter two days after he was whisked away by his security detail from the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, North West, where he was unable to address workers because they demanded he leave. 

Among the workers concerns was a demand for a monthly R1,000 salary increase for Sibanye-Stillwater gold mine workers. This as workers have been on a three-month-long strike after the mine rejected their demand and instead offered an R800 annual increase, which is being rejected.

“While the main grievance appeared to be about wage negotiations at nearby mines, the workers’ actions demonstrated a broader level of discontent. It reflects a weakening of trust in their union and federation as well as political leadership, including public institutions,” said Ramaphosa.

“These workers wanted to be heard. They wanted their union leaders and government to appreciate their concerns and understand the challenges they face. In raising their voices, these workers were upholding a tradition of militance that has been part of the labour movement in this country for decades.”   

The disgruntled workers said they could not allow Ramaphosa to address them until he dealt with their salary concerns.

“The wage grievances of the workers in Rustenburg deserve the attention of all stakeholders, employers and labour so a fair and sustainable settlement can be reached. As government, we are committed to play our part.”

The president has assured workers that political and union leaders had received the message and necessary steps would be taken to improve their lives and working conditions.  

Ramaphosa admitted government would not be able to achieve this on its own, but needed all hands on deck.

“As political and union leaders, we have all heard the workers and understand their frustration. More than that, we are firmly committed to take the necessary action to improve their lives and working conditions.

“This is not something government can do on its own. It needs both labour and business, and the whole of society, to work with government to implement an agreed set of measures to grow and transform the economy,” he said.

The wage protest at the stadium was also an indication the working class and poor are suffering, the president said.

Ramaphosa said while Workers’ Day, traditionally also known as May Day, is meant to celebrate the victories achieved in the fight for workers’ rights and improvement of working and living conditions, many challenges persist.

“The challenges workers face this Workers’ Day are many and the hardships they endure are great. The road ahead will be difficult and there is much work to do.  

“That is why we need to rebuild trust and confidence, and why we need to forge a social compact that not only has the support of workers, but also delivers meaningful benefits to them. The workers have spoken. We must listen — and, together, we must act.”

TimesLIVE

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