HUNDREDS of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) members began a strike at the Ekapa diamond mines on August 7th; then on August 10, police forces arrested 43 of the striking workers after attacking the picket line with water cannons and tear gas.
Almost 700 workers employed at the Ekapa diamond mines in South Africa’s Northern Cape province began an indefinite strike on August 7th. Organised by NUMSA, workers downed tools in rejection of the ‘starvation wage’ they are currently being paid.
On Thursday, August 10, as they were picketing outside the mines, formerly owned by the De Beers mining company, the police deployed water cannons and fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse them. The police then proceeded to arrest 43 workers, said NUMSA regional organiser Tshepo Mokhele, who was present at the picket.
The workers were granted bail on August 11.
NUMSA issued a 48-hour strike notice to Ekapa on August 4th, following which the company threatened to lock out workers if they went ahead with the action.
The strikers, who include permanent, contractual, and trainee workers, represent over half of the mine’s 1,200 workforce.
Among their key demands is a 17% wage increase and an entry level salary of R17,500 ($930.2). They are also seeking a one-off payment of ex gratia funds amounting to R10,000 ($530.1).
According to NUMSA, the current entry level salary is R5,700 ($302.9) per month. Put in context, the cost of an average household food basket for the month of July, as calculated by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity (PMBEJD) group, stood at R5,082.94 ($270).
Workers have also demanded that the housing allowance be increased to R2850 ($151.3) and medical allowance to R2650 ($40.6) per month.
They have asked for an agreement for one year, back-dated to March 1st.
Ekapa responded with a counter-offer of a 6.5% wage increase and a three-year agreement.
Meanwhile, the company has provided a 17% wage increase solely for workers in the ‘C-band’ category (which includes workers who are qualified to conduct blasting operations in the mines).
‘NUMSA condemns the mine management for dividing workers. Our members are earning peanuts, whilst they are also expected to risk their lives underground mining for diamonds,’ NUMSA General Secretary Irvin Jim said in a statement.
After the strike began, Jim tried to engage with the chief executive at Ekapa mines attempting to find a solution but the ‘CEO was very arrogant and did not want to budge on any of these demands.’
The union’s statement said: ‘For the last five years the employers have not implemented any effective wage increase for the workers, their salaries have been stagnant. The employers have not put on the table an increase that will sustain the livelihoods of these comrades.’
As the workers continue their picket, Ekapa has sought an interim interdiction, the court hearing for which is scheduled for September 11.
- The victims of the Marikana Massacre still await justice, says the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri), a public interest law centre which has represented 36 families of the miners killed in Marikana on August 13 and 16, 2012.
Seri said in a statement last Thursday, 10 August 2023: ‘On 10 August 2012, mineworkers at what was then the Lonmin plc platinum mine, now Sibanye Stillwater, gathered to bring their grievances about their wages and working conditions to the attention of the mine’s management.
‘Before the miners could reach Lonmin’s offices, they were stopped by the South African Police Service and the mine’s security guards. Despite their attempts to engage with management, Lonmin refused to communicate with the miners outside of the official trade union channels, which was the majority trade union, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) at the time.
‘Consequently, the miners decided to go on strike. Over the days that followed, 44 people would be killed including 34 miners who were shot and killed by the police on 16 August 2012 – a day now remembered as the Marikana Massacre.
‘Since 2012, SERI has represented 36 families of the miners killed on 13 and 16 August and supported their pursuit for justice and accountability.
‘In 2015, the families, totalling 320 claimants, launched their civil claim seeking an apology from government and damages for loss of support, medical expenses, general damages and constitutional damages.
‘The State has paid out settlements for loss of support claims for 34 of the 36 families, with payments made between August 2018 and September 2019.
‘In 2019, SERI received an offer for loss of support for the 35th family but this excluded a family member and is yet to be finalised. Concerning the 36th family, the State’s position is that it would not compensate the family for loss of support as it believes that the deceased miner did not have a duty to support his unemployed siblings and their children.
‘Regarding criminal justice, only nine police officers have been prosecuted to date. Four police officers were charged with crimes relating to defeating the ends of justice and for concealing the circumstances around the death of Mr Motiso Otsile van Wyk Sagalala.
‘In 2021, all four officers, including former North West Deputy Police Commissioner Major General William Mpembe, were acquitted.
‘Mpembe and five other officers are currently standing trial for the events that occurred on 13 August 2012 in which three mineworkers and two police officers were killed.
‘The officers have been charged with the death of mineworker Mr Pumzile Sokanyile. Mpembe is also standing trial for the deaths of mineworkers Mr Semi Jokanisi, Mr Thembelakhe Mati and police officers Warrant Officer Tsietsi Hendrik Monene, and Warrant Officer Sello Ronnie Lepaauku.
‘Mpembe is further charged with the attempted murders of six surviving mineworkers and one police officer. This trial commenced in May 2021 and is yet to conclude. All this time the families whose loved ones were killed on 13 and 16 August 2012 continue to bear the brunt of delayed justice through slow-paced prosecutions.
‘Over the past 11 years, neither former President Jacob Zuma nor President Cyril Ramaphosa have ever visited the families to tender an apology for the loss of their loved ones. In February 2018 (during the State of the Nation address) and in April 2018 (at the funeral of Winnie Mandela), President Cyril Ramaphosa repeated a promise he made to visit the widows and families and to apologise to them, however, that is yet to take place.
‘Instead, the State has denied that the Families are legally entitled to the apology and dragged its feet in terms of compensatory redress, by having only settled on one of the five areas for compensation – loss of support, and accountability while at the same time, the state has shouldered the cost of the legal defence of police officers standing trial, at times affording individuals separate legal teams.
‘For example, the legal costs of former Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega’s litigation challenging the findings of the Farlam Commission of Inquiry were reported to have reached R5,5 million in August 2021. In contrast, the families have collectively been represented by three senior state prosecutors.
‘While the State has claimed Marikana as a dark day in South Africa’s history, it has failed to demonstrate a full appreciation of what the massacre has cost the families and what they have continued to suffer over the years.
‘Under international law, the State has failed to uphold the victims’ and survivors’ rights to equal and effective access to justice, and their rights to adequate and prompt reparation for the harm suffered.
‘Some of the families suffered further deaths in the immediate aftermath of the massacre, including a family that suffered a miscarriage, and another whose mother of a deceased miner collapsed and died at the news of the massacre, for example.
‘Over the years, three families each lost a loved one to suicide relating to the trauma caused by the massacre, while other families with elderly members have also lost loved ones with the passage of time. Many of the children whose parents were killed at Marikana are now adults and have had to contend with what their loss has meant for their childhood and how it continues to shape their lives.
‘We call on the South African government to prioritise the victims of the Marikana massacre by apologising to the families and survivors of the massacre.
‘We call on the mine that acquired Lonmin, Sibanye Stillwaters, to play its role in bringing justice to the families by acknowledging the role that the mine played in the massacre and to take sincere steps to assist the families in their search for healing by engaging in a victim-centred and led reparatory initiative.
‘We call on the state to take the steps to prosecute those responsible for the massacre ranging from state officials to representatives of the mine who are accused of being involved.
‘Finally, we also call on the State to expedite finalising all outstanding compensatory claims.’