Violence triggered by escalating labour unrest at Lonmin’s Marikana mine resulted in the death of 44 people between 12 and 16 August 2012 in what has come to be known as the Marikana tragedy. Of the 44 people who died, 34 were shot by police on 16 August while 10 people, who included security guards, mineworkers and police officers were killed between 12 and 14 August.
The Marikana event shocked South Africans who did not expect such incidents in the democratic era and focused much negative attention on the South African government and the mining sector. Shortly after the tragedy, President Jacob Zuma appointed the Farlam Commission of Inquiry to investigate events at Marikana. The Commission’s findings were released to the public in June 2015.
The events at Marikana had a significant impact on the labour relations landscape, bringing to the fore underlying problems such as union rivalry, management shortcomings and wages of which the value was offset by high levels of employee indebtedness, poor housing conditions, limited capacity in local municipalities, high youth unemployment and some of the consequences of the legacy of the migrant labour system.
Today, four years later we reflect on this terrible tragedy and how it forever changed peoples’ lives.
Speaking at the Chamber of Mines AGM in May 2016, Chamber President Mike Teke said, “Reading (the Farlam Report) is to relive the horrors of those days of August 2012. We do not again want or need repeat the various attributions of blame that the report finds. Suffice to say that there were errors of judgment all round.
“And before any of us in the industry take comfort in the fact that only one company was involved, let us all remember that, given the confluence of events of that period, there but for the grace of God could have gone many of us. We all – the industry, the unions, the state, community leaders need to ensure that systems in place preclude the chances of a repeat of those tragic events.”
The South African mining industry is committed to ensuring that the events of Marikana are not repeated again.
Some of the key developments that have been put in place since 2012 are detailed below:
Employee indebtedness remains a concern in all spheres of South African society. Ironically, mining employees are vulnerable to formal and informal lenders as they have a stable, good income, and have access to banking systems and other documentation. The Framework Agreement for a Sustainable Mining Industry concluded in July 2013 under the chairmanship of the then Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe, provided that employers had to inform their employees of emolument attachment orders when creditors presented these orders to companies for deduction from employees’ salaries. It was envisaged that this would enable employees to determine the legitimacy of these orders. Dealing with indebtedness was a feature of the 2013 gold and the 2014 platinum wage settlements, and is an area where unions and management have worked together, constructively. An industry-level indebtedness task team consisting of Chamber, company and union representatives was established in 2012. Since then, the parties have worked closely to come up with solutions. Financial literacy training is widely available across the industry and is aimed at changing behaviour, supporting employees by providing effective debt relief solutions, dealing with unscrupulous lenders, reviewing the legality of judgments against employees and the legitimacy of emolument attachment orders, better managing the administration of garnishee orders against employees’ salaries; and working with peers, organised labour and government to create an environment where consumer protection and credit laws are enforced. Furthermore, the Chamber of Mines also represents its members on various NEDLAC task teams to work on proposals to further assist indebted employees to reduce their debt.
The Framework Agreement for a Sustainable Mining Industry concluded in July 2013 by all stakeholders under the chairmanship of the then Deputy President, Motlanthe, provided that government, business and labour would work together to transform the migrant labour system. The Technical Task Team (in which the Employment Relations department represents the Chamber) tasked with the implementation of the Framework Agreement, established a multi-stakeholder task team under the chairmanship of the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME). Researchers were contracted to provide a picture of the migrant labour system in the North West Province and elements of continuity and changes since 1994. They were also tasked with evaluating the main negative impacts of the system for employees, labour relations and productivity. In February 2015, the researchers presented their final report to the Technical Task Team and to the leadership in mining at the Presidential meeting held in October 2015. The researchers found that mining employees usually earned twice the median wage of other employees in mining towns and that conflict was not mainly rooted in pay but rather in a combination of the unusually poor living and working conditions of most miners. In the informal settlements, municipal and social services were far below national norms. Furthermore, social facilities and especially schools were in short supply. Focus group interviews also established that employees were frequently “unusually frustrated on the job”. The report also recommended that companies had to address issues such as strained employment relationships with continued discrimination and lack of respect.
In 2015, the Chamber’s focus was on providing support to members in facilitating home ownership opportunities for mine employees. This was done in order to give effect to the Special Presidential Package for the Revitalisation of Distressed Mining Towns, and the Social Contract for the Delivery of Sustainable Human Settlements. The Chamber has been facilitating access to retail financing for the acquisition of houses, given that lack of access to finance has been identified as a key obstacle to home ownership. The challenge presents particularly in respect of those employees who do not qualify for either government housing or bank finance. The Chamber’s Accommodation Task Team has been engaging with various finance institutions in exploring financing models including the National Housing Finance Corporation, the Banking Association of South Africa and other private service providers in finance.
The Chamber has played an important role in seeking assistance for municipalities regarding capacity building given that one of the identified obstacles to successful housing delivery is the limited capacity of some municipalities. With the help of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), the Chamber is working to identify municipalities where these challenges exist, and then seek collaboration to assist these municipalities with the required capacity building.
In his State of the Nation Address of 17 June 2014, the President called for social partners to deliberate on the state of labour relations in the country and to address low wages, wage inequalities, and the upsurge in violent and protracted strikes. This was done in the format of an indaba, under the auspices of NEDLAC and the stewardship of the Deputy President, and culminated in the Ekurhuleni declaration, which was signed by all the stakeholders on 4 November 2014. A multi-stakeholder NEDLAC Technical Task Team was created to implement the various objectives set out in the Declaration (the Chamber’s Employment Relations Department is involved in the Task Team). The Task Team commenced work in January 2015 and was engaged in negotiations during the course of the year. Labour pushed for a national minimum wage (NMW) to be introduced. All indications are that a NMW will be introduced in 2016 and the key focus of NEDLAC is currently on where to peg the NMW.
Proposed amendments to the LRA which provide for compulsory pre-strike secret balloting without contravening the Constitution, have been proposed. In addition, amendments to the LRA which provide for advisory arbitration in the event of prolonged strike action, have also been proposed.
As we commemorate the anniversary of the tragic events at Marikana in 2012, we invite our colleagues and stakeholders in mining to be mindful of the lives lost, and in support of the family and friends of those affected by this tragedy, and join us in moving forward as an industry and a country as a whole.