Mining strikes could 'spark recession' in SA
President Jacob Zuma has warned that the ongoing strikes in the mining sector could plunge the economy into another recession and leave millions jobless.
Speaking at Cosatu's 11th congress at Gallagher Estate in Midrand yesterday, Zuma cautioned that the impasse at Lonmin and other mines was not only a problem for the mining industry, but also had an adverse effect on the entire economy.
The stoppages have cost the Treasury R3.1-billion, with a further R4.62-billion lost in the platinum, gold and coal sectors.
"The impact goes beyond the mining sector. The manufacturing sector, especially the fabricated metal products sector, is already showing signs of strain.
"We cannot afford to go into a recession and revert to the 2008 and 2009 period [when] the country lost close to a million jobs, [from] which we are still battling to recover."
The work stoppages in the platinum and gold sectors in the past nine months had already cost R4.5-billion in lost production, with losses in the coal industry totalling R118-million.
Zuma said a quick solution between employers and striking workers must be found soon.
Wage talks involving striking Lonmin miners and the CCMA have been fruitless, with miners on Friday dismissing an initial pay increase of between 9% and 21%.
Lonmin has said demands for a R12500 salary will put thousands of jobs at risk and challenge the viability of the business.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan last week also warned that the unrest in the mining sector will damage economic growth, job-creation efforts and investment opportunities.
"Everybody in South Africa has the responsibility to ensure that we boost the confidence in our economy and in our country. What we say, what we do, the violent acts we engage in or the incitement of violence or perpetration of violence, undermines confidence in the ... economy," he said.
Zuma also called on mining companies to implement the mining charter - a position shared by the ANC's national executive committee, which moved to defend unions on Sunday, putting the blame on mining bosses and socioeconomic conditions.
The Marikana saga has become a nightmare for Zuma, with some saying his handling of the matter could dampen his chances of being re-elected at the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung.
His campaign for a second term as ANC president, however, got a boost from Cosatu as its top leadership was retained unopposed as fractured affiliates united in song praising him.
Zuma's speech also hit the right chord with Cosatu delegates as he emphasised the importance of the alliance.
He commended Cosatu for its "maturity" in retaining its leadership, adding that the outcome was a lesson to the entire alliance.
All of Cosatu's national officers bearers - president Sdumo Dlamini, first deputy president Tyotyo James, second deputy president Zingiswa Losi, general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, deputy general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali and treasurer Freida Oosthuizen - retained their positions.
Zuma took the opportunity to attack his political detractors, whom he accused of using the Marikana "tragedy" to score cheap political points.
Comparing the government's intervention in Marikana to apartheid was being disingenuous because the government's intention was to stabilise the situation, said Zuma.
"This does not take away the rights of miners and residents to protest, peacefully and unarmed, as provided for in the laws of the land. The agencies have been told to be firm, but to respect the rights of residents and strikers. This applies not only to labour disputes, but also in service delivery protests, which are at times also accompanied by violence, including the destruction of property," said Zuma.
His speech was preceded by that of Dlamini, who also spent time reflecting on the Marikana tragedy.
Dlamini, who has emerged as Zuma's key supporter in Cosatu, cautioned delegates that tensions within the federation were tactical and should not be elevated to "strategic differences".
"We will not go to Mangaung divided, but we will go there with a clear class agenda to defend and advance the progressive outcomes of Polokwane," he said.
Dlamini said the unrest in the mining industry could not be blamed on union rivalry and the growing social gap between leaders and members, but on the poor working conditions of workers.
"The problem in Marikana is not rivalry between unions, nor can it simply be put as being a widening gap between leaders and members .The central issue is that workers in the mines are rising against their continued exploitation by employers".