The events, revealed by interviews with key players in the
five-month platinum strike, expose the impotence of the bargaining
structures that have underpinned labour relations since the end of
white-minority rule in 1994.
They also cast a shadow over the ruling African National Congress
(ANC), which admonished the minister for inviting the lawyer to the
talks after he had left the ANC to be elected to parliament for the
ultra-leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
The chastened minister then withdrew from the negotiations, almost
scuppering an agreement between the world's three biggest platinum
firms and the striking Association of Mineworkers and Construction
Union (AMCU), which has informal ties to the EFF.
"They did not tell me how to withdraw," the minister, Ngoako
Ramatlhodi, told Reuters. "They just told me: 'We think you have
done enough. We want you to go slow on this.'"
With its share of the vote waning 20 years after the end of
apartheid and a key political ally, the National Union of
Mineworkers (NUM), threatened by AMCU, the ANC was keener to avoid
conceding political points than resolve the worst strike in the
130-year history of the mines, analysts say.
The ruling party wanted the strike to end but in a way that did not
mean the NUM bleeding more members to AMCU, William Gumede, head of
the Democracy Works Foundation think-tank, said.
"We're now getting into a self-preservation period in the politics
of the ANC alliance which potentially could destabilize sections of
the labor market and polarize the country," he said.
The strike claimed five lives and dragged Africa's most advanced
economy to the brink of recession but the CCMA, South Africa's main
dispute settlement agency, said it was largely toothless in the face
of politically tinged union militancy.
Nerine Kahn, director of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation
and Arbitration (CCMA), said other countries allowed agencies such
as hers to force parties to stop striking for a period to allow for
"We don't have that right," she said.
WING AND A PRAYER
After countless rounds of failed talks, many South Africans thought
only divine intervention would end the stand-off between the
70,000-strong AMCU and Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and
Those at the key June 11 meeting in Johannesburg's Palazzo Hotel
shared that view.
They included Bishop of Pretoria Jo Seoka, who had initially
intervened in Platinum Belt unrest after the 2012 police killing of
34 wildcat AMCU strikers at Lonmin's Marikana mine, the bloodiest
security incident since apartheid.
Alongside him were Dali Mpofu, a prominent but controversial lawyer
who had taken up the cause of the slain Marikana miners, and Joseph
Mathunjwa, an evangelical Christian and the charismatic leader of
Opposite the trio, dubbed the 'Three Musketeers' since the Marikana
killings, was Ben Magara, the Zimbabwean chief executive of
London-listed Lonmin and one of the few black CEOs in South Africa's
"We started the meetings with prayers and we closed them with
prayers because we felt we needed a bit of extraordinary
assistance," one person involved, who asked not to be named, told
As head of the worst-hit platinum firm - analysts say Lonmin was
only a few months from running out of money - Magara had the most to
gain from pursuing talks to end the strike.
But his background was also crucial to overcoming bad blood between
AMCU, the platinum firms and the ANC rooted in the festering
inequalities left by apartheid and in the raw anger stirred up by
the Marikana killings. AMCU blames the police and ANC for the 2012
miners' massacre, a charge they deny.
In contrast to Chris Griffiths and Terence Goodlace, his white
counterparts at Anglo and Impala, Magara started his career
underground, working his way up through the ranks and into the
"Ben has worked in the mines," one person involved in the final
negotiations told Reuters.
"His view and understanding of the suffering is different from
Griffiths because he has lived it. Coming from a black community in
Zimbabwe, he has some feel for the suffering."
THREE DAYS OF SUSPENSE
The Palazzo meeting produced an "in principle" deal to increase
basic wages by 1,000 rand a month, a hike equivalent to nearly 20
percent for most workers.
Even though Mathunjwa had not signed it, the three firms announced
it the next day, June 12, just as the AMCU boss was presenting it to
workers at mass rallies at platinum mines near Rustenburg, 120 km
(70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
The mood on the Platinum Belt was ecstatic as shop stewards stepped
up to the microphone to chant "Sign, Mathunjwa! Sign!", eliciting
roars of approval from miners who had not seen a pay cheque in
nearly half a year.
The jubilation was in marked contrast to three days earlier when the
sudden absence of mediation from new mining minister Ramatlhodi
[to top of second column]
Sworn in on May 26 after another comfortable national election
victory by the ANC earlier in the month, Ramatlhodi, an advocate
with no mining experience, won the personal approval of President
Jacob Zuma to do whatever it took to end the strike.
Besides AMCU, the three firms and a posse of government officials,
Ramatlhodi also dragged in Seoka and Mpofu - two of the few non-AMCU
people whom Mathunjwa trusted. Under his ad hoc auspices, the talks
AMCU refused to drop its totemic demand of a "living wage" of 12,500
rand/month basic pay. But the two sides gradually brought their
target dates for progressive implementation of the hike - equivalent
to a 150 percent rise if taken in one year - together until they had
a broad deal, Ramatlhodi said.
When a week of talks ended on June
6, the only outstanding issue was over a 400 rand/month 'living out
allowance' for workers opting out of company accommodation, he told
"If AMCU had given that up, they would have had a deal that Friday
(June 6)," he said. "At that point, it was done."
Then Ramatlhodi dropped his bombshell.
At a hastily convened Saturday morning news conference on the
sidelines of a meeting of the ANC top brass, the minister said he
was pulling out of the talks to avoid setting the precedent of
government being the mediator of last resort.
"South Africa has strong, credible institutions to carry out that
task," he told the media. "We can take them to the river, but we
can't make them drink."
The decision stunned negotiators, with one person at the heart of
the talks dismissing his reasoning as "very flimsy".
The next day, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe - known for his
dislike of Mathunjwa - revealed more: the minister had been
"cautioned" about the inclusion of Mpofu, recently sworn in as an
The ANC is openly hostile towards the EFF, which became South
Africa's third-largest party in the May 7 elections. With Zuma
missing the ANC meeting due to illness, Ramatlhodi said he lacked
the one big-hitter who could fight his corner, and felt obliged to
ANC spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.
"BACK TO SQUARE ONE"
When negotiations resumed on Monday, June 9, the trust was gone and
the mood was grim. An attempt by an official from the CCMA to kick
start the talks back into life went nowhere.
The CCMA has since refused to take the blame, saying Ramatlhodi had
muddied the waters. It has also demanded more institutional teeth in
the face of growing union militancy.
"Each time a different person steps in, you go back to the beginning
and that's very, very problematic for the CCMA," director Kahn said.
A labour court judge-turned-mediator also hit a brick wall as the
minister's team slowly retreated to their offices. Ramatlhodi stayed
in the room but made clear he was there only in a "personal
As night fell, Mathunjwa emerged to tell waiting reporters the talks
had deadlocked once again.
"We were back to square one," one person involved said.
Magara was particularly upset.
"I've never seen him so emotional. He thought it was done and he was
so low," the person said. "At that stage he had no idea a deal was
actually about to happen."
Alarmed at the prospect of an even longer strike and sensing
Magara's weakness, Seoka and Mpofu took their chance and arranged to
see him at breakfast the next day.
After more meetings in hotels in the suburban sprawl between
Pretoria and Johannesburg, Mpofu and Seoka finally managed to get
Mathunjwa to agree to see Magara in person at the Palazzo.
"They needed to get Magara and Mathunjwa in the same room - and
that's when we got them," another source involved said
When he arrived, the bishop, the lawyer and the Lonmin CEO had
already signed the deal. Mathunjwa never inked it, but his handshake
was enough to convince Magara it was in the bag, one person involved
"There was huge relief."
(For timeline of final days of the strike, click on)
(Additional reporting by Nomatter Ndebele; Editing by Pascal
Fletcher and Philippa Fletcher)
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