Lonmin Miners Back At Work After Pay Rise
Striking Lonmin miners will go back to work this morning with hefty pay rises - but that is unlikely to be the end of the unrest caused by the six-week-long dispute.
Miners working for other firms now want parity. As the Lonmin men at the Marikana plant a hundred kilometres northwest of Johannesburg were celebrating their increases, colleagues at Anglo-American Platinum (Amplats) about 45 kilometres away were being tear-gassed and fired on with rubber bullets by police trying to stop the strike contagion.
And Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of the trade union movement COSATU, hastily rushed to talk to gold miners taking part in a similar wildcat strike at a Carletonville gold mine on the West Rand to try to prevent "another Marikana".
The Lonmin workers may not have got quite as much as they were demanding but they scored a huge industrial victory. Many got a one-off payment, promotions and pay increases as much as 22 per cent - and within hours of the news being announced, workers at other mines were demanding the same.
The industrial action which has cost more than forty lives, instigated a Commission of Inquiry, knocked the South African economy and seen echoes of the apartheid-era, may well have ramifications which last for months yet, maybe longer.
As Ron Derby of Business Day observed: "Workers at other mines may be encouraged to adopt the same tactics as the Lonmin workers, especially as they managed to winkle out extra pay from a struggling company."
But life for the thousands of miners and their families is not about to change anytime soon. Many are still living in shacks made out of corrugated iron slats with no electricity, running water or toilet facilities.
Those men include workers like Fundile and his wife, Siyonthande who have six children between them and who have lived in their tiny one-room shack for two years now.
Fundile is a rock drill operator at Lonmin and takes home a fraction over 4,000 South African a month - that's a bit more than £300.
"Lonmin is the third largest platinum company in South Africa," he told me as we sat on a bench outside his shack.
"But they don't pay us enough, that's why we have to live like this."
We followed Siyonthande through the dusty lanes in and out of the ramshackle tin homes to track the journey she has to make regularly in search of water. It's a journey which takes her about an hour.
The nearest tap which is shared by a cluster of about three dozen homes was not working so she wheeled her barrow full of plastic containers to another further away.
This one was locked and positioned outside the shack of another squatter camp resident. After some negotiating and the production of two Rand, the key was produced and the tap turned.
Siyonthande and her family finally had water, considered a basic of life.
The South African Government and especially the President Jacob Zuma have come under fierce criticism from the public and the media for the often violent unrest which has accompanied what began as a labour dispute.
When police opened fire on striking Lonmin miners at Marikana, killing 34 of them on August 16, it became much more than just a disagreement over salaries.
The police said they had used their guns in self defence against stampeding protestors carrying sticks and machetes.
The tragedy was compounded when more than 200 of the strikers were arrested using an apartheid-era law which saw them facing charges of murder for taking part in the protest on the day of the police shootings.
Then several of the survivors and those arrested told reporters and investigators they had been shot and seen others killed while trying to run away from the police thus throwing grave doubt on the police suggestion of self-defence.
Many of the South African public has watched horrified as a bad situation threatened to become even worse with troops called out to safeguard the mines and police empowered to break up 'illegal gatherings' or strike protests.
The Lonmin wage deal is already being viewed with some envy across the entire Rustenburg platinum belt.
An organiser for the militant Association of† Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) at Impala Platinum told Reuters: "We want management to meet us as well now."
The unrest may not be all over just yet for the mining industry.