In what could be seen as a worrying development, two Harmony mineworkers have been killed in off-site violence near its Kusasalethu gold mine in what appears to be continuing inter-union violence – reminiscent of that on the platinum mines which came ahead of the Marikana massacre.  This suggests that, although the mines have gone back to work after a serious disruptive period, violence still simmers under the surface and could rear up yet again as new unions attempt to challenge the National Union of Mineworkers’ dominance of the industry.

In a statement, Graham Briggs, Harmony’s CEO, said: “ “Harmony deplores the tragic and senseless loss of life in what appears to be inter-union rivalry, not associated with the operations of the mine.  Management, the recognised unions and AMCU have continued to engage in talks about normalising the situation at Kusasalethu, since workers returned to work on the 25th of October 2012 following the unprotected strike. AMCU has applied for recognition and a process of membership verification is underway. We urge all employees and the unions to refrain from violence and follow the proper engagement processes that are in place.

While operations at Kusasalethu have so far not been affected apart from increased security for worker protection, these incidents have had a habit of escalating with intimidatory tactics by some of the activists involved, and it is these, rather than actual dissent, which has led to personnel not turning up for work in the past. 

Harmony was less affected by the earlier mine strike problems than AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields, the country’s two largest gold miners, but nevertheless has acceded to the recent pay settlement with the unions alongside its bigger brethren.  It is thus to be hoped that the killings were very much an isolated incident and will not spread in the form of intimidation and mine walkouts, but it does draw yet more attention to the underlying violence at the heart of the recent South African mine strikes – which did not, in reality, have their roots in basic mine labour problems but in often violent, inter-union rivalries.

iPad Version: Picture – Miners gather for a march in Rustenburg in South Africa’s North West Province: SIPHIWE SIBEKO / Reuters