Strike havoc spreads
South Africa's strike season is in full swing as municipal workers in Limpopo walk out today to join thousands of their striking counterparts in mining and transport.
The violence, chaos and uncertainty - heightened by the rallying cry for the R12500 magic-number wage - are dragging down ever faster what was already a sinking economy.
Though the Treasury has not been able to quantify the financial effect of the strikes, officials are closely watching the unravelling of key sectors of the economy.
Signs of falling confidence are evident.
Moody's, the agency that downgraded South Africa's sovereign debt rating again last week, yesterday cut the credit ratings of a number of large companies and state-owned entities, making it more expensive for them to borrow.
Telkom, Eskom and Gold Fields are among those that will be hard hit by the lower rating on their bonds.
Moody's did not explicitly link the downgrading to the Marikana killings six weeks ago, or to the events that followed, but cited "political risk" and policy uncertainty.
The Treasury has been struggling to keep a tight hold on the nation's purse strings. This was evidenced yesterday when it announced that, instead of giving South African Airways the R6-billion bailout it had requested, it would act only as guarantor for a R5-billion loan secured elsewhere by the airline.
Though Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies have tried in recent months to reassure investors that South Africa was still a good place in which to do business, an ANC alliance partner, trade union federation Cosatu, is pulling no punches.
"Mine bosses have created this problem with their collusion," said Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi yesterday.
Vavi's fiery rhetoric is part of Cosatu's latest attempt to rally workers behind it.
The federation has started showing support for wage demands much higher than those usually sought and has called on the Chamber of Mines to reopen negotiations in the gold and coal mining sectors.
Workers in these sectors are tied into a multi-year wage deals and mining companies such as AngloCoal and Gold Fields have stated they are not willing to negotiate until the deals expire.
According to National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka, illegal strikes involving more than 100000 workers were under way at eight companies:
- AngloGold Ashanti;
- Gold Fields - at its KDC East and Beatrix mines;
- Anglo Platinum;
- Petra Diamonds, in Northern Cape, where a R21500 wage is being demanded;
- Petmin, in KwaZulu-Natal;
- Bokoni platinum mine, Limpopo;
- Samancor Chrome Western Mine; and
Workers at the Sishen mine in Northern Cape might join the illegal strikes today.
Another wildcat strike hit Gold One yesterday when workers downed tools at its Ezulwini mine, near Westonaria, on the West Rand.
According to mine management, Ezulwini is a marginal operation on very thin margins and will probably have to close if there is a protracted strike.
NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said the union took the risk of job losses seriously.
"A number of these companies have stopped their development plans," said Baleni.
"This means that new jobs will not be created."
- North West police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said only one death from Sunday could be attributed to the continuing mine violence. "The body of a 22-year-old man was found on Monday morning. He, along with two friends, was driving near Jabula Hostel mine when they were stopped by a group of people.
"The group allegedly accused the three of working while a strike was on and attacked them with pangas and other weapons. Two of the three managed to escape but their friend was killed."
He said the other four murders related to a tavern fight, a traditional ceremony and a suspected robbery. - Additional reporting by Graeme Hosken and Amukelani Chauke