Is the Lonmin saga only the beginning?
Analysts and commentators have pointed out that the violence at Lonmin's Marikana mine actually spread from earlier unrest at Impala Platinum and is likely to spread.
Posted: Friday , 17 Aug 2012
PRETORIA (Moneyweb) -
The violence at Lonmin's Marikana operations, which resulted in the death of at least 34 mining protestors and rocked South Africa, may spread.
In an SAFM interview with Loan Sharpe, a labour market analyst and director of Adcorp, told Moneyweb that "this is just the start."
"I think when a market becomes saturated, as the trade unions market is in mining and the public sector and manufacturing and so many other sectors, I think you are going to see this kind of violence as unions carve up territory between them," he said.
According to Andrew Levy, from Andrew Levy & Associates, it is a situation that has actually already spread from earlier unrest at another platinum producer, Impala Platinum.
Analysts and commentators have pointed out that the tragedy at Lonmin raises questions about leadership in labour movements and from corporate companies in resolving disputes, but that it is also pointing to the disconcerting possibility that labour protests are becoming more violent in South Africa.
The unrest at Impala earlier this year cost three people their lives.
Levy told Moneyweb that a situation such as the one currently at Lonmin has not happened to his knowledge since the transition from the Apartheid government to a democratic South Africa.
"There have been situations where there have been police confrontations and certainly baton rounds, rubber bullets have been fired. I can't think of any strike in post-transition history where in fact there have been deaths at the hands of police," he said.
According to Levy there has been a strong and a steady escalation since 2005 in the level of violent behaviour during strike activity.
A read of the Department of Labour's annual industrial action reports for the last two years shows this increase in the prevalence of violence in strikes.
- January - Tshwane bus driver illegal strike: "The situation boiled over at Church Square when a group of women stormed the ticket office, sending officers running in fear..."
- February - police reservist march: "Their protest was to be peaceful, but tempers flared and bricks were allegedly thrown at police, who retaliated with rubber bullets."
- March - illegal traffic officer strike: "Traffic officers took to the streets and blocked the M4 freeway in the city."
- March - Pikitup illegal strike in Johannesburg: Workers used Pikitup trucks to blockade roads from early in the morning, and created chaos for drivers during a standoff with their employer."
- May - Transnet worker strike: "At Umbilo in Durban, police fired rubber bullets when striking SATAWU members attacked subcontractors and stripped them naked on the first day of protest action at Transnet facilities."
- May - Magwa Tea Company protest action in Lusikisiki: "Police were reported to have arrested about 81 striking workers during a violent demonstration. It was reported that the tea plantation workers had stoned passing vehicles and set fire to a building belonging to the company."
- August - Vaal Triangle teacher strike: "Chaos broke out at several primary and secondary schools... when striking teachers gained illegal access to the schools and intimidated non-striking teachers and pupils."
- September - taxi driver illegal strike: "Commuters were hardest hit by the action and some were forcibly removed from the taxis driven by non-striking drivers."
- February - Metro Bus strike in Johannesburg: "Due to incidences of violence and intimidation, the municipality resorted to suspending the service."
- February - SAMWU protest at Ekurhuleni Municipality: "A contract worker at the Nigel Cemetery was allegedly assaulted by the striking workers and rescued by the police before he was set alight."
- February - City of Tshwane bus driver strike: "A municipal worker died as a result of police action."
- February - Magwa Tea Plantation protests: "Workers... went on a rampage after management refused their demands."
- March - SANTACO taxi driver strike: "Taxi drivers... embarked on a violent strike in Cape Town. A bread truck driver was shot dead and his truck set alight, while bus commuters were injured after the bus they were travelling in was stoned."
- May - Eskom construction worker protests at Medupi and Kusile: "Building projects were affected after violent protests by approximately 500 construction workers on May 6. Vehicles were damaged and offices set alight."
- July - Numsa steel and engineering sector strike: "This strike was characterized by violence, intimidation and destruction of property." One person was reportedly killed in strike-related violence.
- October - 2011 Parys municipal strike: "Workers broke windows and trashed streets."
The reports clearly do not indicate all incidences of violence as no mention is made of the numerous accounts of violence during the public sector strike in August of 2010 where police used teargas and rubber bullets and many injuries were reported.
A report by the South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR) says this strike was marred by intimidation, the forced closure of schools and hospitals, attacks on non-striking staff and the deaths of at least six patients deprived of medical care. Ronald Nyathi, Gauteng spokesman for teachers union Sadtu is quoted as saying: "Any school that remains open is declaring war on 1.3m people. We will crush you because we are many."
The monetary value of damage caused by strikes is also on the increase. This is according to the financials of the South African Special Risks Insurance Association (Sasria), which was formed in 1976. In its 2011 annual report it states that profit before tax decreased by more than 10%, due to a significant increase in claims, "mainly attributable to a marked increase in strike-related damage."
"Historically over 80% of Sasria claims resulted from non-political and political riots. Since 2008, we have noted a steady decrease in such claims, whereas strike-related claims have increased significantly since 2006; strike-related claims now account for over 70% of Sasria claims," the company states.