Decisive leadership required to handle mining's Pandora's box
The Times Editorial: South Africa's mining bosses appeared ready yesterday to strike back, with several owners taking hard action against workers.
In the morning, Kumba Iron Ore sent in the police to remove about 200 striking workers who had, essentially, held the Sishen mine to ransom since October 3.
Kumba will now assess the damage to its equipment and has promised to restart production as soon as possible.
It decided to fire the strikers after they defied an order to report to a disciplinary hearing on Monday to explain why they should not lose their jobs.
In the late afternoon yesterday, Gold Fields - which halted production at its Beatrix and Kloof Driefontein Complex West mines almost two months ago - said more than 20000 miners would be fired by tomorrow if they did not return to work.
Earlier this month, Anglo American Platinum became the first mining company to stand firm against the wave of illegal strikes that had started at Lonmin's operations in Rustenburg.
On October 5, it fired 12000 workers after three weeks of strike action.
But what can the companies' hard line achieve beyond ensuring that the Pandora's box that Lonmin opened when it caved in to strikers' demands can never be closed?
The companies will still be dependent on manual labour because there remain some areas in mining that have not been mechanised.
Companies will still have to deal with migrant labourers whose income is split between family at home and family in the townships around the mines.
They will have to grapple with the radicalisation and legitimacy of new unions.
All of these, of course, cannot be the mining companies' burden alone. The relevant ministers must be active participants in finding a solution rather than blaming the bosses.
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