IT WAS impossible for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to negotiate for striking miners at Marikana because of their aggressive attitude and their unwillingness to talk to officials, NUM president Senzeni Zokwana told the Marikana inquiry last Thursday.
Zokwana professed shock at the ‘vicious and cruel’ murders of two security guards ahead of the August 16 police clampdown at the koppie near the mine.
He said the situation at the Rustenburg mine in North West could only be controlled by law enforcement personnel.
He told the Farlam commission of inquiry: ‘When the environment prevails like the one in Lonmin at that time, only law enforcement personnel could deal with that issue.
‘To negotiate you need a mandate to mandate . . . You can only get a mandate from people who trust in you and who have faith in you.’
Questions have been raised about why the union failed to negotiate outside an existing collective bargaining agreement to prevent the deaths of 34 striking miners.
NUM chief negotiator at Lonmin, Erick Gcilitshana, had conceded the prevous week that this could have prevented the killings.
Relations between the union and its members were strained to the extent that members resolved to take up their demand for a R12500 wage increase on their own.
Zokwana said he believed the anti-NUM sentiment was caused by the union’s opposition to the unprotected strike.
In emphasising his point about the extent of the miners’ aggression at the time, Zokwana narrated the hostile reception he received when he went to address the miners at the koppie on August 15.
He said miners sang ‘how can we kill NUM, we hate NUM, how can we kill Zokwana’ as they struck their pangas and assegais against each other in unison.
He told the inquiry: ‘I’ve never come across such an aggressive and threatening attitude by mine workers.’
Zokwana also denied suggestions that NUM was an uncaring union that neglected its members at a very critical time.
He said since its formation in 1982, NUM had tried its best to improve the lives of mine workers.
The struggle of the Lonmin and Amplats platinum miners, has inspired farm workers to strike for a living wage.
The Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) said on Saturday that it will continue to fight for a minumum wage of R150 a day, while it expects the new minimum wage for farm workers to be no less than R100 a day.
Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola said in a statement: ‘As now expected, the new minimum will in all likelihood be R105 a day wages, far below the clarion call of R150 a day but significantly above the ridiculous low levels of R69 a day.’
Fawu said it maintained that the minimum wage be increased again to R150 at a later stage.
Masemola added: ‘We call on government, farm owners, retail outlets, exporters and importers to join together with unions and ensure that in the near future the minimum wage of R150 can be paid on all farms.
‘As a meaningful step towards obtaining this we call upon (Labour) Minister Mildred Oliphant, in her announcement on Monday to raise the minimum wage by over 50 per cent to no less than R105 per day.’
Masemola said the union would also focus on further demands for its workers.
He added that Fawu also calls for the home affairs department to provide a special dispensation document for workers in the Western Cape farms.
He said: ‘We also want foreign nationals working in the agricultural sector in general to be assisted with documentation and the practice of deporting striking workers to stop.’
Workers embarked on strike action last year, demanding the minimum wage be increased to R150 from R69.
They were also demanding a cohesive land reform programme be implemented.
The strike was suspended in December but resumed in January.
Farm workers are determined to put an end to their miserable conditions
With their now notorious minimum wages of R69 a day not enough to make ends meet, some Western Cape farmworkers subsist on little else but black coffee during the last few days of each month.
Women are the most likely to go hungry, as they are paid less than men and have less stable work.
Many farmworkers’ children, who often grow up in single-headed households, don’t have enough to eat and are thus vulnerable to a variety of infections and diseases.
Stunted growth is not unusual: a study done by the University of Cape Town in the 1990s showed that farmworkers in the province are, on average, an inch shorter than city dwellers.
In addition to food insecurity, inadequate housing, alcohol abuse, gender inequality, poor service delivery and harsh working conditions all lead to troubled health – further straining an already stressed community.
The results of several studies and surveys show that Western Cape province hosts the highest rates of ‘risky alcohol use’, as well as the highest rates of violence and trauma associated with such use.
This stems in part from the infamous dop (tot) system, in which wine farmworkers were historically partly paid in wine, fuelling alcohol dependence.
Lesley London of the University of Cape Town’s school of public health says: ‘The rural parts of the Western Cape have a big problem with alcohol, which is partly historical and partly circumstantial.
‘It’s well recognised that alcohol is linked with interpersonal violence, and many of the rural hospitals have to deal with heavy trauma burdens.’
Alcohol abuse, violence and food insecurity are not the only things troubling these communities.
Although tuberculosis (TB) is rampant across South Africa, farmworkers in the Western Cape have historically fared far worse.
University of Cape Town’s London added: ‘TB is rife in the Western Cape. We have rates that are astronomically high.’
London explains that TB ‘is transmitted through close contact, and farmworkers live in close quarters. TB is a disease of poverty, and that’s where poverty lies.’
Meanwhile, Colette Soloman, acting director of the non-governmental organisation Women on Farms, said that farmers exploit their relationship with their labourers in other ways.
Given that many farmworkers live on the farms themselves, they are dependent on on-the-farm stores for food.
Many farmworkers and NGOs accuse farmers of pricing foodstuffs higher than commercial shops.
This, compounded with low wages, further promotes food insecurity.
Soloman aid: ‘Prices in rural areas are always slightly higher than they are in urban areas. So if farmers are charging more than the market price, which is already high, farmworkers just can’t afford food.’
Explaining that average household income is just R1,500 a month, she added: ‘Many farmworkers buy on credit, but the prices are so high that when they get paid, they have to pay their debts back and basically don’t have money left.’
Soloman continued: ‘Disproportionately, farmworkers have a lower quality of healthcare than your typical average urban dweller.’
There were also scattered reports of patients receiving inadequate care if they were assumed to be involved in the strike.
Indira Govender, a medical doctor assisting communities during the strike action, says she saw doctors yell at a 13-year-old boy, shot by rubber bullets, ‘accusing him of throwing stones and telling him that he will be in jail before the age of 15.’
Govender said that the 13-year-old patient and three others, also shot with rubber bullets, were only given paracetamol for their injuries.
Soloman hopes that the strike has helped to raise public consciousness about the lives and livelihoods of farm workers.
She said: ‘It’s an immoral perversion that people who are producing food are the ones who don’t have food, and who’s children go to school hungry.
‘It’s invisible hunger and almost normalised, and something that the majority of the South African population is totally unaware of.’