Mineworkers disrupt COSATU May Day rally in Soweto

“What are we celebrating, when we are losing our jobs?”

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Mineworkers disrupted the Workers’ Day rally hosted by COSATU in Soweto on Wednesday. Photos: Ihsaan Haffejee

Angry mineworkers disrupted the May Day rally hosted by COSATU at the Elkah Stadium in Soweto on Wednesday . The workers, members of the National Union of Mineworkers, are unhappy about retrenchments at the mining giant Sibanye-Stillwater.

The protesting mine workers were mostly from the Kloof gold mining branch, which has been hard hit by retrenchments at the company’s Kloof 4 shaft in the West Rand. After concluding a retrenchment process in December Sibanye announced that 575 employees would be retrenched with a further 550 granted voluntary severance packages.

Then in April the company announced that an additional 4,000 jobs could be at risk in its gold operations.

A small group of protesting mineworkers sang songs, marched around the venue and held up posters condemning the ANC, COSATU and Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe for what they claim is the silence of the ANC and trade unions in the face of workers’ struggles.

As organisers tried to get the official programme underway, the NUM members made their way to the front of the stage and began singing loudly. Pleas were made by the leadership from the stage but the workers refused to be silent and continued to jeer the speakers and drown out their speeches with loud singing.

Vuyo Mbele, an NUM member from the Kloof region, said workers are frustrated by the job cuts in mining. “We have just finished one retrenchment process and now we are involved in another one. Workers are unhappy and they are now letting their leadership know about their grievances,” said Mbele.

Deputy President Paul Mashatile was called on stage to address the protesting workers. He appealed for calm, claiming that “making noise” would not lead to any sustainable solution to the workers’ issues. He suggested the programme be allowed to continue and workers meet with leadership after the speeches.

The mineworkers began pushing on the fences surrounding the stage which prompted a call for an increased police presence. A line of police separated the workers from the leadership on stage and the workers continued their protest.

Police were called along the fence separating the protesting workers from the stage.

“They are claiming that this is a day of celebration for workers. But what are we celebrating, when we as workers are losing our jobs?” asked mineworker Joseph Makwetu.

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande took to the podium to deliver his speech, urging workers to vote for the ANC in the upcoming elections. “Voetsek,” said a protesting mineworker. “We won’t vote for a party that is abusing us.”

A short while after Mashatile began his official speech, the sound at the venue was cut. Audio technicians could be seen trying to repair the cables which they said had been cut by the protesting workers.

There have already been several hundred retrenchments at the Kloof mine.

TOPICS:  Labour Mining Unemployment

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