The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has expressed concern about the “deepening crisis” in South Africa, saying it feels that the “gains of the 1994 democratic breakthrough are fast withering away under the weight of deepening inequality and mass unemployment”.
During its extended national executive committee (NEC) meeting earlier this month, the attendees noted that while the union “did not need Covid-19 to lay bare the depth of the social, economic and political crisis facing South Africa”, the pandemic had made everything more stark.
“No country or State can sustain a society where almost 50% of people eligible to work are unemployed. Nor is it possible to talk of a united, single nation where just 10% of the super-rich own 90% of the wealth. And no society can develop where a woman is raped on average, every 25 seconds or is killed on average every eight hours by an intimate partner,” the union said in a statement issued on December 7.
Taking this into account, the NUM stressed that a “spiral of economic decline” was under way and that it might precipitate social collapse on an unprecedented scale.
Moreover, the union lamented that “billions of rands are lost to corruption and other forms of profit shifting, including the central role of ‘western civilised’ transnational corporations”.
This, it said, was some of the money that the State should be investing in social renewal, creating decent work and reindustrialising the economy for a wage-led low-carbon development path.
In addition, the NUM noted that the crisis of mass unemployment was worsening each and every quarter, owing to a stagnant economy caused by “an investment strike undertaken by big business and systematic disinvestment from the South African economy”.
It stressed that “government austerity, the favouring of privatisation through public-private partnerships and conservative monetary policies imposed by both the South African Reserve Bank and the National Treasury have significantly contributed to the widening of inequality, where the poor are becoming poorer and a tiny elite amasses extreme levels of concentrated wealth”.
It further stressed the ongoing crisis at State-owned power utility Eskom, stating that the “unbundling and the privatisation of Eskom would not address Eskom’s functional and financial crisis but simply accelerate its death spiral, with serious consequences for Eskom workers and the working class more broadly”.
Moreover, it said that the privatised renewable energy programme would “not be able to meet the challenges of ensuring a secure and cheap supply of electricity. The introduction of an electricity market will only contribute to making electricity more expensive”.
As such, the NUM will be marching to Eskom’s head office in Megawatt Park on December 11 as part of a rolling programme of mass action directed at stopping the unbundling and privatisation of Eskom.
The NUM called on all trade unions, trade union federations and broader society to join the march to Megawatt Park, where it intends to demand the disbandment of the Eskom board, as well as the resignation of the CEO, the resignation of the COO and for the conditions of service of its members to be reinstated.
On the energy front, the NUM NEC meeting attendees also rejected the just energy transition, saying it would be “very irresponsible for South Africa to stop the use of coal, unless and until we are fully compensated by the rich industrialised countries”.
The NUM believe coal should continue to be used but in a responsible way.
“We need to start building environment-friendly power stations and investigate all technologies, which can reduce the pollution of greenhouse-gas emissions, including carbon capture and storage”.
The NEC also discussed matters pertaining to South Africa’s high fuel prices, gender-based violence, mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations and local government elections.
Regarding the vaccinations in particular, the NEC is strongly opposed to the decision taken by Sibanye-Stillwater to introduce a mandatory vaccination policy from February 2022.
From the start of February 2022, any person entering Sibanye’s workplaces in South Africa will require proof of vaccination or a valid test showing they are negative for Covid-19.
Further, non-vaccinated employees must submit negative PCR test results and the costs associated with such PCR tests will be for the employees’ own accounts. This NUM said it rejects this with contempt.
In addition, the NUM NEC noted that the ever-increasing fatalities on the mines required “drastic action” to compel the mining industry to comply with safety standards and procedures.
It was hopeful that Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe would “hold the industry fully accountable for its failures and adopt a no-nonsense approach when it comes to mine deaths”.
The NUM is of the view that one death in the industry is one death too many, and that production “should not and must not be at the expense of mineworkers' lives”.
On the other hand, the NUM observed “with disappointment” Sibanye-Stillwater’s take on wage negotiations for its South African gold mines.
The NUM has resolved to seek legal opinion to assess if it should apply for Sibanye's gold operations to be placed in business rescue.
Negotiations between the unions and Sibanye have reached a deadlock, with Sibanye saying it would not be in a position to offer the wage increases sought by unions. Sibanye has also said it has raised its offer to the unions five times and that the unions have refused to budge from their initial demands.