JOHANNESBURG – The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which dominated organised labour across South Africa’s platinum belt until the massacre at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in 2012, is plotting a comeback.
By the end of this year, the union wants to represent 30% of the more than 167 000 workers at the world’s four biggest platinum producers, said NUM President Joseph Montisetse. It currently represents 18% of Impala Platinum’s workforce and 11% at Lonmin. He didn’t give figures for Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) or Sibanye-Stillwater, which is taking over Lonmin.
The NUM, founded in 1982 by South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, has halved in size as it was ousted from some platinum mines by the more militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. AMCU played a leading role in the protests that ended in the fatal shooting of 34 people by the police at Marikana, and in 2014 it led a five-month platinum-industry strike.
“We have a clear target. I’ve appointed myself to platinum” recruitment efforts, Montisetse said at the NUM’s headquarters in downtown Johannesburg, where mosaics of struggling workers line the entrance. Formerly South Africa’s largest labor union, it currently has 187 000 audited members, he said.
AMCU says it has 250 000 members across the country’s mining industry. Since Marikana there has been often deadly conflict between members of AMCU and the NUM.
The former also continues to be more aggressive in its pay demands. While AMCU has started this year’s platinum wage talks with a demand for a 48% increase to R17 000 ($1 185) a month, the NUM has requested a 15% increment from Amplats.
While Montisetse said the NUM doesn’t want to profit from another union’s problems, AMCU has its own challenges.
AMCU is currently facing a threat of deregistration as a recognized union by the regulator because it allegedly hasn’t complied with its constitution by failing to hold a regular congress and leadership elections.