It has glaringly exposed the plight of mine workers, most of whom work underground, doing bone-breaking rock drilling jobs, yet they continue living in squalor, leading lives weighed down by debt, while in comparison, mines management take home hefty salaries. Communities surrounding mines around Marikana in the platinum belt, are equal to squatter camps, an enduring legacy of apartheid.
The four-month long strike has exposed the governing ANC cosy relationship with mining capital.
More than 70 000 Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) members have been on strike at the world's three largest platinum producers; Anglo American Platinum Ltd, Impala Platinum Holdings and Lonmin Plc, seeking a basic salary of R12 500 a month, from R4 500. AMCU is led by Joseph Mathunjwa, whom the South African media says is 'waging a class war against white capital'. Mathunjwa raised the tempo in the country's longest running labour dispute, saying that 20 years after South Africans attained self-rule, the workers are still wallowing in grinding poverty.
"Yes, 1994 was a breakthrough whereby we achieved democracy. But what matters most is minerals and money, you can have all this democracy, human democracy but if you cannot feed your family, it means nothing. After 20 years there is no South African who can show his hand and say I have benefitted from the minerals of this country," Mathunjwa argues. "Workers are on strike not because they like it, it's the reality they face every day (which forces them to strike). From 1652 to date, the pay structure of the workers is still the one that was designed by the British colonialists and was confirmed by the National Party. In 1994, we hoped the status quo would change." Mathunjwa said, “So it took a black mineworker to get to R4 500 about 17 years. So we are 20 years in democracy and nothing has been done."
"The companies can afford it, we know they manipulate prices of commodities, dodge tax through tax havens. While our members are on strike (Amplats CEO Chris) Griffiths can earn a bonus, they have got the money, it's just that they are greed, arrogant and insensitive," Mathunjwa said.
Mining companies say they have lost more than R17.9 billion in revenue and workers almost R7.9b in income. AMCU maintains that companies can afford and should pay a basic salary of R12 500. Producers have offered to stagger the R12 500 over four years up to 2017, an offer flatly rejected by the incensed workers. Mathunjwa argues that while the lowest earning rock drill operator, who works underground, has a basic monthly income of R4 500, the amount pales into insignificance compared to basic pay in other resource countries such as Brazil (R25 000) and Australia (R80 000).
But it's not the comparison with Brazil, nor Australia which irks miners, it's the salary drawn by senior management. Anglo American Platinum chief executive, Chris Griffiths, was paid R17.6 million in cash and payment in equity, including a basic salary of R6.7 million in 2013 who added salt to the wound by saying "Must I run this company and deal with all this nonsense for nothing? I am at work. I am not on strike. I am not demanding to be paid what I am not worth."