The world’s biggest platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum, fired 12,000 striking workers in South Africa Friday. It’s the latest action in a labor dispute that has been going on for months, spurred on by a deadly police action at the Marikana mine in August, that killed 34 strikers.
Milton Nkosi, a BBC reporter in Johannesburg, says the mass firing followed unsuccessful negotiations over a demand for a 20 percent pay increase. In a nation that has only a modest 5 percent inflation rate, employers considered the demand unreasonable.
Nkosi says labor unrest and economic hardship are a nationwide problem.
“It’s not just in the mines,” he says. “We are in a two week truck driver strike, and some of the fuel stations are beginning to run dry because some of the fuel truck drivers have been on strike demanding a higher wage increase.”
There are also strikes at some of South Africa’s coal and gold mines. Nkosi points out “this will certainly add on the unemployment rate of South Africa, which is at approximately 25%, and that will put President Jacob Zuma’s administration under pressure.”
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Marco Werman: Hi, I’m Marco Werman, this is The World, the co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. Big News out of South Africa today: after weeks of striking, hire backs, then not hiring back, and more strikes, the world’s largest platinum producer, Anglo-American Platinum, pulled the big plug. Today the company fired 12,000 workers who were taking part in a three week old strike. Wild cat strikes have been spreading across South Africa since August when police shot and killed 34 striking miners in Marikana. Milton Nkosi reports for the BBC, he’s in Johannesburg, South Africa, now, but he’s been on the story since it began. And Milton, it all began in August, as we said, when police shot and killed those striking miners. What’s been the story since then?
Milton Nkosi: Well, what’s happened since then is that the miners at Marikana, the survivors, and all those who were striking for a wage increase in August following the massacre got a pay rise of 22%. Now the inflation in South Africa which a lot of employers are using as an annual pay rise is 5% and because of that massacre the managers at Longman Platinum the third largest platinum producer decided that they would rather just give into the miners demands and continue with their production and because of that decision the other mines decided that they would go on strike and they will also demand around 20% increase.That’s what has happened since the Marikana massacre, Marco.
Werman: This has got to be a shocking bit of news for those miners and their families, tens of thousands of families in the region, and many more people are going to be affected by this.
Nkosi: Yes, indeed, because these strikes have actually happened outside the official collective bargaining chamber process. What has happened is that a few months ago the unions in the mines negotiated a 10% pay rise with the employers for 2 years. Now what has happened is that in the middle of this deal, this is what is happening, and it’s strikes as an insult, it’s not just in the mines, we are in a two week truck driver stikre, and some of the fuel stations are beginning to run dry because some of the fuel truck divers have been on strike demanding a higher wage increase. Now this will certainly add on the unemployment rate of South Africa which at approximately 25% and that will put President Jacob Zuma’s administration under pressure.
Werman: Milton, you’ve been traveling across South Africa staying on top of this story and all these strikes. What’s the mood right now? I mean, what’s going on in that country? It just feels like it’s a different place from here.
Nkosi: Well, South Africans, as you would recall Marco, are still fresh historically speaking, from apartheid, and 18 years into this democratic system, the fundamental issues that have plagued the country for centuries in essence are still there. You still have a very large section of this country which is uneducated and poor and you have a very tiny minority- largely white, who control the levers of power and the difficultly for the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela’s party, which delivered the democracy into South Africa, are actually trying very hard to have a slow change over process. Where else if you follow the Zimbabwe situation you would actually create bigger problems. Now they are caught between a rock and hard place because they’ve gone the slow route and people have become impatient. And if they go the fast track route that is a recipe for disaster in itself as we have seen elsewhere on the continent. Now that is what really South Africa is dealing with now.
Werman: As for today’s news, Milton, 12,000 people sacked in one fell swoop, how is this playing out in the South African media?
Nkosi: People are shocked and they are bewildered, as they were in August during the massacre. They could not believe the announcement made by Anglo Platinum. What the Chamber of Minds has said, and President Jacob Zuma addressed them last night, is that they cannot allow a situation of anarchy where miners leave the negotiation chamber- the collective bargaining process through the unions, and they go individually to the employers and then they strike, they become violent, and they intimidated those who want to go to work. So, President Zuma said that cannot be allowed in a constitutional democracy and as a result the company decided to take on these steps because they know government is behind them on the issue of discipline alone.
Werman: The BBC’s Milton Nkosi speaking with us from Johannesburg, South Africa. Thanks very much, Milton.
Nkosi: Cheers, Marco.
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