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National strike call chimes with miners

By Errol Barnett, CNN
updated 3:49 AM EDT, Fri September 14, 2012
Malema announced to a crowd of striking workers at Gold Fields that: "There must be a national strike in all the mines." Malema announced to a crowd of striking workers at Gold Fields that: "There must be a national strike in all the mines."
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South African miner strikes spread
South African miner strikes spread
South African miner strikes spread
South African miner strikes spread
South African miner strikes spread
South African miner strikes spread
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Anglo American, the world's top platinum producer, suspended operations in Rustenburg
  • Makhasi dedicated 18 years of his life to dangerous work underground for Gold Fields
  • Makhasi supports five children and his wife on 6,000 Rand or $730 a month

South Africa (CNN) -- Competing unions, worker dissatisfaction and multiple reports of violence threaten to weaken the stability of Africa's largest economy.

On Wednesday the world's top platinum producer, Anglo American, suspended all of its operations in Rustenburg, South Africa due to "intimidation" of its workers. Lonmin, which saw a week of strike-related violence at its Marikana mine end in 44 deaths in August, reports a meager 1.8% attendance rate at all of its platinum mines Wednesday. Meanwhile thousands of striking workers are halting operations at select gold mines as well. Currently there is no end or resolution in sight.

The mine violence explained

Fury over shootings tests Zuma

Exacerbating this crisis Tuesday, ousted ANC Youth League President Julius Malema announced to a crowd of striking workers at Gold Fields that, "There must be a national strike in all the mines," adding that for five days each month workers should walk off the job in protest and solidarity. He was preaching to workers like Thokozanin Makhasi.

South African miner strike spreads
Malema and the mining crisis
Miner Mfaseni Yekwayo, at a hospital near Rustenburg on August 18, relates to South African President Jacob Zuma, left, the events leading to the miners' clash with police. Miner Mfaseni Yekwayo, at a hospital near Rustenburg on August 18, relates to South African President Jacob Zuma, left, the events leading to the miners' clash with police.
Tension at South African mine
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Makhasi dedicated 18 years of his life to dangerous work underground for Gold Fields. A team leader of five people, his thumb was once crushed by a falling rock -- only a small nub remains. His monthly pay is roughly 6,000 Rand or $730. As the sole breadwinner in his household, his meager income supports his mother, wife, five children, and two of his sister's children. He says it's not enough and like thousands of other striking mineworkers is demanding a 12,500 Rand ($1,500) monthly salary or $18,000 for the year.

Union dissatisfaction lies at the heart of the growing and widening miner strike movement. Makhasi complains that his union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), cares more about maintaining ties with the majority party -- the African National Congress (ANC) -- than representing the interests of its members. He says this is why his wages have remained so low.

Black South Africans were socially and economically liberated thanks to the efforts of Nelson Mandela's ANC and a coalition of unions. But 18 years later, striking miners feel that political elites and union heads are no longer looking out for the working man's interests.

The NUM breakaway entity, AMCU (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) is taking advantage of this sentiment, encouraging NUM members to change allegiances. Witnesses have characterized them as more militant and aggressive, carrying machetes and sticks during strike marches. This AMCU-NUM turf war has complicated matters for workers confused at who can deliver on their wage demands and also for mine operators wanting to negotiate with the legitimate groups.

Still, one aspect of this crisis is clear, Malema sees himself as playing a major role. During an interview with CNN's Christian Amanpour on Tuesday Malema stated, "We have now taken over the leadership of [this] struggle to make sure the mineral resources of this country benefit the people of this country."

It's a message is resonating with Makhasi. He says he likes what he hears from Malema and prefers the AMCU all because the leaders he trusted for so long have failed him. He pledges to stay off the job with thousands of others, until his wage demands are met.

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