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ANC no longer popular with unions

Asumpta Lattus / so
June 9, 2014

South African mine workers are meeting mining companies in order to end a five month long strike. While the ANC blames its political rivals for the strike, analyst Ralph Mathekga says the ANC is simply losing control.

Members of the National Union of Minworkers (NUM) demonstrate in Johannesburg
Image: Reuters

The world's top three platinum producers, Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin are once again sitting down with South Africa mine worker's unions in order to broker a deal and put an end to the strikes. But it has been a bumpy ride. After several rounds of negotiations, mining Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi stated that he would pull out of the talks if the parties could not come to a settlement on Monday, June 9. The mines account for 40 percent of the world's platinum. DW spoke South African political analyst Ralph Mathekga.

DW: Is the strike really politically motivated?

Ralph Mathekga: I think that it comes at a time in South Africa, when the country is experiencing realignment at the trade union level. We know that the history of the trade union movement in South Africa is political because the unions were historically aligned with political parties. What is happening now, is that the African National Congress (ANC) no longer has that dominant voice with the unions in the platinum belt. This is because of the political fractures within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). We have seen the emergence of a new trade union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which is spearheading the strike. And AMCU does not distinctly identify itself with the ANC. So the ANC has lost the ground that it has always had.

The ANC has hinted that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party is behind this strike. What could the EFF hope to gain from the strike?

I find it incorrect for the ANC to say the EFF is behind the strike. The strike was initiated by the workers. The EFF is trying to gain political mileage in the strike by aligning itself with the striking mine workers. That does not mean that it caused the strike. Historically we know that the ANC had access to some of the voters through the alliances with the unions in the mine sector. So I think EFF is also hoping to gain by aligning itself with the new union, which is the majority union in the mine sector in that region. We have seen that the alliance with trade unions in South Africa has historically sustained political parties, even financially. When it comes to funding for the campaigns, the trade unions have been able to help political parties.

What does that mean for the ANC now?

It means that for the first time, the ANC has to stand aside, because the ANC is almost seen as a persona non grata in the mining sector. Particularly in the region of Marikana, where the conduct of the ANC led government, is seen as having resulted in the death of those miners in 2012. So the ANC has to observe, hoping that the mine bosses and the workers will be able to reach a settlement. It is the first time that a settlement is going to come without any kind of settlement from the ANC or influence by the ANC aligned trade union, which is the National Union of Mine Workers.

The mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi is from the ANC. He started the negotiations and now he wants to pull out of the negotiations. Is he expecting too much too soon?

I think he had unrealistic expectations. When he went into the negotiations he had high expectations. But the strike had been underway for four months. There are deeper issues within in the strike. It's not just a question of wages. It's a question of justice and the working conditions of the mine workers and whether they are sharing the profits from the exploitation of the mines. So the minister was quite unrealistic and I think that he is now frustrated because he could not achieve anything, hence his announcement that he is withdrawing from the negotiations.

Ralph Mathekga is a South African political analyst.

Interview: Asumpta Lattus.