If we are to end the turmoil in our mining industry, we need a proper conversation around how this crisis came about; if we are to send our people home with pay packets rather than termination letters we need to understand what has gone wrong, and we need to fix it.
Instead of accepting that we need to change the way things work, some major role players currently seem to be intent of doing what they did before, but more of it.
I have three points that I believe should be part of this conversation.
First, the cosy relationship between big government, big mining and big unions doesn’t work. It ignores different circumstances and different mines, it stops pay increases for skilled workers because a pay increase then has to be given to everybody; and it crushes minority unions and stirs rivalry because the system is one where the winner takes all.
Second, the culture of striker impunity must end. There must be consequences for violent law-breaking. For too long striking COSATU members have had a licence to kill as those who choose not to strike are murdered and nobody is arrested.
Police appear reluctant to act against COSATU, perhaps because to do so would be a career limiting move.
This was amply demonstrated when the DA marched on COSATU House, when COSATU members threw rocks and the police shot teargas at the DA. Significantly, the first time there was a major use of force by police against a violent strike at Marikana, the strikers were not operating under the instructions of COSATU.
And my third point: All three components of the tripartite alliance continually tell people that the mine owners are evil capitalists who do not pay them more money because they are greedy. If, like ANC members on the Mineral Resources Portfolio Committee, you accuse mining companies of raping South Africa’s resources; if, like the NUM, you accuse mining companies of committing genocide against workers and of not paying them fairly; then is it any surprise that the workers eventually say the agreements their union has signed are not legitimate and they demand more money, and are prepared to use violence to get their demands?
We are only beginning to see the full, sad consequences of this. New investment has stopped, jobs are being lost and more will go.
South Africa is not seen as a good place to put your money into mining.
Spokespersons can cry all they want about what the Economist magazine said, but it is an international perception.
And I believe the Economist was spot on when it said, “Marikana should be a wake up call to the government, but South Africa’s leaders, engrossed by factional infighting, appear deaf.”