Tag Archives: AMCU

Update: South African Miners Push Government to Brink

South Africa (SA) is a country blessed with great natural beauty, an abundance of natural mineral resources and a people who are proud and industrious. The country’s manufacturing section drives economic growth and sustainability. Yet the country seems unable to reach its economic potential. Some commentators say that SA’s biggest challenge is escaping its tortured past. Yet, this does not seem to be the case. Political scientists and experts question the country’s readiness from a leadership point of view to fulfill its potential.

Apartheid-the system of racial segregation enforced by legislation-officially ended in 1994. White Supremacy as a way of life in SA came to an end because Whites agreed to relinquish power to Blacks. Willem de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, two iconic figures in modern-day history negotiated a peaceful path to Black majority rule. The African National Congress (ANC) under Nelson Mandela took the reins of government and has never released it. Nelson Mandela became SA’s first elected Black president after the end of apartheid. Unfortunately, long term one party rule normally produces corruption, broken systems of patronage, economic stagnation and politicians who govern simply to stay in power.

Top ANC officials are not sleeping well now-a-days. After two decades at the helm of the government the station of the average Black South African has not improved. The ruling party, though controlling the governmental process, has not brought about a reduction of poverty, reduced the high employment rate or extend social and public services to those most in need. As under Apartheid adequate housing for poor Blacks remains only a dream.

This week’s economic news will cause ANC politicians to lose more sleep. The economy is growing at its slowest pace since the 2009 recession. The manufacturing sector contracted by 8%. The SA rand is trading at a four year low as against the dollar. The social cost of the stagnant economy is staggering. Unemployment is over 30% and 48% of the people live under the poverty line. High tech jobs are available but the average worker does not have the skills to fill the openings. The public sector workers earn much less than their private sector counterparts. Since the ANC came to power the SA economy has lost more than two million jobs. It is no wonder why the average South African has lost confidence in the government’s road map to prosperity.

Last August workers at the Lonmin Marikana clashed with governmental security forces. Commentators and labor advocates framed the clash and labor unrest at the mine as a dispute over wages. Yet, this conclusion is only partial correct. In a post dated August 29, 1012 I suggested workers were more frustrated with the government’s failure to improve their lives than they were with low wages. Eventually the workers returned to work, though with slightly higher wages. In my opinion the country’s economy has not progressed since Apartheid due to continual labor unrest.

Once again the miners are engaging in wild-cat strikes. Apparently the killing of a labor activist sparked the newest round of strikes at the precious metals mines. Weeks after the killing it is still not clear if the shooting was related to some labor dispute. What is clear is that the rivalry between the more militant AMCU and the government friendly NUM is fueling labor unrest. Militant union officials have promised President Jacob Zuma that they will bring the country to a standstill if their demands are not

General elections will be held in 2014. At the ballots the people will either approve of the job that the ANC is doing or not. Consequently President Zuma is making every effort to resolve the labor disputes in advance of the elections. On national TV the President has warned that the labor dispute at the mines is dragging  down the economy. He pleaded with the militant miners to be patient and allow his policies time to right the economy. Each day more union leaders demand that the mines and the industry that they support be nationalized so that the average worker can receive greater compensation for his labor. In my opinion nationalization is not the solution. South Africa Airways was nationalized, and it struggles to stay aloft.

In my opinion time has run out for President Zuma and the ANC party. The miners’ wild-cat strikes hurt more the privately owned mining companies than the government. It is true that the labor unrest causes international investors to park their money in more stable economies. Yet, the international community believes that the S.A.’s economic policies and practices have only added to the country’s woes. This line of thought is expanded on in a News24 piece, entitled South Africa We Have a Problem:”

“The South African economy is bleeding. It is not simply the mining instability or looming strike season which are responsible for the drop in the rand, which is down to the lowest level in 5 years. It is becoming clearer that the rest of the world sees President Jacob Zuma more as a figurehead and a buffoon than a leader who has the interests of the country at heart, and the tumbling rand is clear evidence of that”

 After two decades of setting and implementing governmental policy the ANC party has failed improve the average South African’s station in life. I believe that the prolonged labor unrest is a direct result of worker frustration with years of having to endure economic hardships. It is understandable that miners (and other workers) want a better life for themselves and their families. At least the miners have jobs. There are legions of the chronically unemployed who will no longer bide their time in expectation of better days. The time has come for South Africans to choose an alternative to ANC party. The average person in the street must consider if not the ANC than which party should govern. Where S.A. goes from here is the question that many South Africans are afraid to consider.

The Dangers of Working in the Lonmin Marikana Platinum Mine

On August 5, 2010 a horrible accident occurred at the San Jose mine in Chile. As the miners were about to eat lunch the walls began to collapse around them. They were trapped a mile below the surface with no way out. Mine officials and the miners’ families feared the worst. It was possible that the miners were in the danger zone when the accident occurred. The international community joined the Chileans in praying for the miners’ safe rescue. Mining officials on site quietly expressed their view that the missing miners needed a miracle to have survived the collapse.

Seventeen days later the miners, their families and national and international well wishers had their miracle; the miners had been found alive, though weak and hungry. The miners found probes that rescuers had drilled down to search for survivors. Using the probes the miners sent messages back up to the rescuers. Communication with the miners had been established. Chilean Undersecretary of Mining Pablo Wagner cautioned that it could take four months for a hole big enough could be drilled to remove the miners. Later it was discovered that the mine walls were too unstable to allow large scale rescue operations. The initial euphoria slowly turned to despair as rescuers realized the daunting challenges that they faced to free the miners from their soon to be grave.

In a rare display of international cooperation and assistance a plan was devised to rescues the miners. Once the proper equipment was on sight and the rescue plan had been fully discussed and agreed upon, the miners began rising to the surface in small one-man capsules. After two months of confinement almost a mile below the surface the first of the miners set foot on the surface. The accent vehicle was called the Phoenix and was paint in the colors of the Chilean flag. Specialist from NASA, an international team of drilling experts and millions of dollars made the rescue of the trapped miners a reality. Thousand of miles away people watch on their television sets or the live feed on their computers the rescue of each of the thirty-three miners. When the last miner stepped out of the ascent vehicle a relieved world let out a collective sigh.

Though the Chilean miners escaped their tombs in waiting underground mining is an extremely dangerous business. Although mine safety has improved over the years, tragic accidents still happen with the lost of life. It is believe that globally about 12,000 miners are lost each year. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) mining employs around 1% of the global workforce but it generates 8% of work related fatalities. China and Russian seem to be the exception  to the global improvement in mine safety and a reduction in fatalities. The statistics indicate that developed nations normally have better safety records than developing nations. The experts believe that this is because unions are stronger in the developed nations. It is argued that unions insist on mine safety and advocate the well-being of the miners. In less developed nations unions are either weak or marginalized in the political and economic process. In the less developed countries if a miner complains about mine conditions or general miners’ safety he will most likely be out of a job.

South Africa (SA) is the world leader is mining and refining platinum group metals (PGMs). The world’s largest deposit of PGMs is located in Marikana which is located in Western SA. The owner and manager of this platinum mine is Lonmin Plc (Lonmin). The company was organized under British law in 1909 as the London and Rhodesian Mining Company Ltd. Today Lonmin’s principal headquarters is located in the South African city of Johannesburg with corporate offices also located in London, England. The company is seen as one of the world’s largest producers of PGMs. Lonmin engages in the exploration, mining, refining and marketing of PGMs.

The global automobile industry requires platinum to manufacture catalytic converters (CATS).  These devices control toxic emissions produced by internal combustion gasoline engines. Almost every government requires auto manufacturers to install CATS on the vehicles they produce to cut down on air pollution. Almost all present day automobiles that run on gasoline are fitted with a three way CATS to reduce toxic emissions. Without the converters the toxic gases would be expelled directly into the air. CATS are also used on generator sets, forklifts, airplanes, locomotives and other machinery that is used everyday. Lastly PGMS are used in making high-end jewelry.

About two weeks ago South African (SA) platinum miners lost their lives. The dangers that these miners faced was not located deep underground but above ground. When the miners lost their lives they were not working the mine because they had called an illegal strike. On the day in question their demonstration for higher pay and safer conditions, unfortunately, turned violent. On August 17, 2012 at South Africa’s Lonmin Marikana mine 34 striking miners died in clashes with police and mine security forces. The violent confrontation left another 78 persons injured. It would be an understatement to say the loss of life was tragic. The YouTube video of the confrontation between the police and the miners is graphic and disturbing. A police officer can be heard shouting orders to his men to stop shooting.