The Marikana massacre's effect on the law and SA's union landscape

The Marikana massacre gave mineworkers an opportunity to choose a union that they believed best represented their interests rather than stay with majority unions.

FILE: Miners sit at the 'koppie' in Marikana ahead of a programme to commemorate the Marikana massacre, on 16 August 2018. Picture: Pelane Phakgadi/Eyewitness News.

JOHANNESBURG - It is widely agreed that the Marikana massacre was one of the defining moments in the country's labour market, shifting the balance of power among trade unions. On the day that South Africa is commemorating the tragic events of 16 August 2012, mining and labour experts told Eyewitness News the Marikana massacre influenced labour relations in the country, giving power to minority trade unions.

In 2012, 34 striking miners employed by Lonmin were gunned down by police amid a protracted strike over pay. Ten others, including security guards and police officers, were killed in the lead up to the events of 16 August.

The strike cost miners their lives and much more when they sought a minimum wage of R12,500, as well as better working and living conditions from mining company Lonmin.

While the deadly strike led to the rise of the previously minority trade union Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), it also forced bosses to review how proportionality was applied at the negotiating table.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was a majority union in the North West's platinum belt when workers refused to accept lower than demanded wages and working conditions.

Labour law consultant Tony Healy said the dispute was largely centred around the fact that striking workers were members of a minority trade union that didn't have bargaining rights.

“From a legal perspective, the Marikana massacre has influenced our labour law to the extent that minority unions have rights now which they didn’t have at Marikana which was as far as the labour dispute was concerned,” Healy said.

He added that the massacre also gave mineworkers an opportunity to choose a union that they believed best represented their interests.

“What Marikana did was certainly increase Amcu’s profile and drive a lot of NUM members into Amcu who felt that the NUM weren't representing them well enough."

Meanwhile, mining and labour expert Mamokgeti Molopyane said unions also improved the way they approached disputes when meeting with mining bosses and government.

“They are more informed by research and less by politics and that research has in a way helped in the negotiation process.”

Molopyane is advising that unions move to new strategies that are more informed by emerging technologies in mining and consider their implications on the sector and workers.

Mining unions said the sector still grappled with wage inequality, lack of community development and accountability. At the time, President Cyril Ramaphosa was a senior member of the African National Congress (ANC) and a non-executive director at the mining company.

Nine years on, the events of 16 August continue to haunt South Africa, worsened by many empty promises and assurances.

Amcu, led by Joseph Mathunjwa, emerged as the most powerful in the platinum sector after the massacre.

Mathunjwa prides himself in pushing for workers’ rights.

“Particularly at Lonmin, which is now called Sibanye, at Anglo and even at Impala Platinum, I don’t think you'll find any person earning less than R12,500."

But NUM president Joseph Montisetse said that the reality was that union members were yet to earn the benefits for which their peers died.

“The lowest-paid workers have not actually reached the amount of R12,500. They may make it through their bonuses and so on, but in terms of salary scale they have not reached that.”

Both unions agree, though, that mining communities are no better off and are still condemned to poverty while workers’ conditions haven’t improved much.

To date, not a single person has been prosecuted for the deaths of the mineworkers killed during the Marikana massacre.

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