Mining firm Lonmin has offered to increase striking workers’ salaries to less than half their demanded basic wage, despite calls for a national strike in the sector, deepening an industrial crisis that has escalated over the past few months.
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) General Secretary Frans Baleni said on Friday Lonmin had proposed a pay hike for entry-level workers to around 5,500 rand ($660) from 4,600 rand – a fraction of the 12,500 rand demanded by the workers.
“We are not interested,” striker representative Molifi Phele said as hundreds demonstrators chanted and danced around him in the heart of the ‘platinum belt’.
“What he is offering cannot buy you anything. All we want is 12,500.”
Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, reporting from Marikana, said the Lonmin offer was met with “audible groans” from the miners.
“The scale of the offer is clearly unacceptable. It was just not enough compared to what they are asking for, which is roughly $1,500 [per month]. It fell far short of that.”
The message here is that they will hold out until they get the whole 1,500 per month. Some said they will go to loan sharks in order to send money home. In all, it was not a positive move today in Marikana.”
Talks on the offer, the first formal proposal put forward by the platinum producer, are due to start at 1000 GMT, although Baleni admitted they were unlikely to succeed in a atmosphere poisoned by the police killing of 34 miners last month.
“It’s a very unpredictable situation. In normal negotiations you go there knowing that it is give and take. In this instance it’s difficult for us to predict the reaction,” he said.
The miners at Lonmin’s Marikana operations in the heart of the “platinum belt” near Rustenburg, 100km northwest of Johannesburg, have refused to go back to work until they receive a basic pay hike to 12,500 rand.
The strike has since spread to nearby shafts belonging to top world producer Anglo American Platinum, which had to shut down 17 percent of its operations this week after marches by stick-wielding protesters.
Jeff Radebe, the justice minister, said on Friday that the government will no longer tolerate the illegal protests where miners brandish machetes, knives, spears and clubs.
Radebe refused to say whether police will be allowed to use live ammunition, but added that “all those involved in illegal activities … are going to be dealt with”.
The coming together of miners from the two mining giants is an attempt to bring to a halt all mining in the area.
“On Sunday, we are starting with a general strike here in Rustenburg,” protest leader Mametlwe Sebei told the crowd.
The action was designed to “bring the mining companies to their knees”, he said, to mild applause from the crowd.
The strikers insisted their push for a sharp hike in wages was peaceful – even after the August 16 police shooting of 34 protesters at Lonmin’s platinum mine. “There should be no blood,” one placard read.
The wave of labour unrest in Africa’s biggest economy has spiralled beyond the control of the government and unions into a grass-roots rebellion by black South Africans who have seen little improvement in their lives since apartheid ended 18 years ago.
Negotiations had restarted on Thursday at a site near the Lonmin mine, when workers, bosses and unions sat down to try and hammer out an agreement.
Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, reporting from Mooinooi near Rustenburg, said it was a bit of a breakthrough that the miners and Lonmin were talking again, even though the process could go on for a few days until an agreement is reached.
She said that both sides appeared to have given concessions and softened on their initially immoveable positions.
“Initially the Lonmin striking workers had previously said weren’t willing to negotiate on their big pay rise demand of R12,500 (or just over $1,500) but now say they would be a bit flexible on that point.
“From Lonmin’s point of view they had said they wanted the striking miners to sign a peace accord in which they would promise that there would be no more intimidation or violence, and then they would talk about wages… So they do appear to be inching slightly closer together,” Page said.
Earlier on Thursday, leaders from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) called on South African President Jacob Zuma to preside over a meeting of the country’s mining industry.
“As AMCU we make a clarion call to the President of the Republic of South Africa, his Excellency Jacob Zuma, to call a mining indaba [gathering] on the state of the mining industry of South Africa,” said AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa.
Zuma said on Thursday that illegal strikes and intimidation spreading through the mining industry would not help workers and make the “country worse off”.
Speaking to parliament, the president said that strikers’ concerns should be addressed within South Africa’s labour relations framework.
The miners, gathered at Blesbok stadium, meanwhile claimed they had handed Amplats a list of demands.
A group of more than 100 chanting, singing strikers, many rhythmically waving sticks and “knobkerry” clubs, accompanied protest leaders as they delivered a written memorandum laying out their demands to Amplats management offices near the stadium.
The document spells out demands for an increase of basic monthly pay to R12,500 ($1,500), plus for increased allowances that would take the total to R16,000 a month. That wage would be more than double their current salary and also more than double per capita GDP in the country.
They miners said they would not return to work until top management came to hear them out and introduced a basic pay hike.
Amplats said it suspended its Rustenburg operations on Wednesday over safety concerns after workers were intimidated with the threat of violence in the latest unrest to hit the key mining industry.
The plight of miners living in tin shacks while they produce the raw materials for luxury goods under dangerous conditions has put a spotlight on the South African government’s failure to meet basic needs like clean water and decent health care.
It has also drawn attention to the widening gap between a small black elite that lives sumptuously while many South Africans worry where their next meal will come from.