Cabinet grasps at crisis control
President Jacob Zuma will today lead a ministerial delegation in talks with business, trade unions and community representatives about "South Africa's challenges" in the wake of the violent illegal strikes.
But it is not clear just how much leadership Zuma is showing in resolving a crisis that has now raged for two months and on Monday manifested in a sell-off of South African government bonds.
The cabinet yesterday noted its "concern" at the effect of the widespread lawlessness on South Africa's image abroad.
Responsibility for tackling the crisis seems to be spread widely between cabinet members.
According to her department, Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant is trying to broker deals on several fronts but her efforts have not made a dent in the illegal strikes in the mining sector.
Protected strikes have paralysed the transport sector and have been hampering the delivery of food and fuel for weeks.
A senior mining executive close to the negotiations has described the government's approach as "incredibly naive".
He did not want to be named but said Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu's close ties to the National Union of Mineworkers had probably forced her to take a back seat. She had been more involved before Marikana, he said.
Oliphant is now working hard to fill the gap but "they are not solving the fundamental problems and I think in a year we will be back where we are now", the executive said.
Zingaphi Jakuja, spokesman for the Department of Mineral Resources, said negotiations fell within the ambit of the Labour Department and were not part of Shabangu's job description.
Mining statistics for August, released by StatsSA yesterday, gave the first official glimpse of the devastation that two months of illegal strikes have wreaked.
Mining production was down 1.1% on a month ago, reflecting the idle weeks at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine.
In the previous month, platinum-group metals accounted for a substantial part of the growth.
Platinum and coal accounted for nearly half the production in August. Strikes spread within the platinum sector in September and ignited at coal and gold mines.
Shireen Darmalingam, an economist at Standard Bank, said a more significant effect might be seen only in the September and October numbers.
The cabinet said it was committed to addressing "the domestic factors" that had contributed to the country's downgrading last week by ratings agency Moody's, and would ensure that the effect of the downgrading was contained.
But an investor sell-off earlier this week caused the currency to nose dive to nearly R9 to the dollar.
Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies, and Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, have been trying to reassure investors in the past few days but images of burning trucks have undermined their efforts.
Four trucks were set alight in Cape Town yesterday in attacks linked to the truck drivers' strike. This brought to 30 the number of trucks burned in the province in recent weeks, the SABC reported.
On Monday, Gary Stewart became the first fatality of the transport strike when he was hit on the head with a brick when his truck was attacked in Cape Town.
The Ministry of Police says it is fighting what the cabinet calls "lawlessness".
Zweli Mnisi, spokesman for Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, said yesterday that "in all cases, suspects have been arrested".
"There is no case that has been ignored," he said, and downplayed suggestions that law enforcement had taken a softer approach since the Marikana shootings, in which 34 illegally striking miners were killed by the police.
Late yesterday, transport union Satawu was still in negotiations with the Road Freight Employers' Association, seemingly unable to find common ground between an offer of 8% and a demand for 10% from the strikers.
The gold mine members of the Chamber of Mines and the NUM also failed to reach a deal .