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A mine was like a house and the miners were its occupants. If they left the house, a whole new set of rules pertained.

This was the analogy used by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe while answering questions about the violence at Marikana during the closing session of Towards Carnegie III on Friday.

Motlanthe, who is a former Secretary General of the National Union of Mineworkers, gave a detailed explanation of how mine culture worked and the place of rockdrillers in the work process.

He likened a mine to a house, and the miners as its occupants “Inside that house, there are existing house rules and institutions.They know that none of those house rules would permit their effort of getting an increase. So they pull out of the house, they leave the house with its rules and go outside it to form a structure.”

But that structure, he says, now lacks a cohesive leadership. “The unions and the HR people have no vote in this new structure.”

Instead, power falls into the hands of the ‘muti-person’, who performs certain ‘rituals’ to empower the workers.

“The first request of the muti-person is a request for human organs or blood, so their first task is to kill. Once they deliver the ingredients, the ‘ritual’ is performed. Strengthened first by the killing and then by the ritual, they can go and intimidate other workers.”

The workers, without any solid and identifiable leadership, are now particularly hard to deal with. “None of them represents any collective. As long as they are under that spell, they are under a regimented structure. There is no democracy there.

“The best way to deal with that is to separate them from the muti-person, and to break that spell.” Motlanthe also warned about the presence of those who seek monetary awards that may not be due to them. “I had many similar experiences, where 13,000 workers go on an illegal strike and are dismissed. The mining company, having dismissed them, employs others.” Even if it goes to court, it often takes up to two years to reinstate the workers, and by then the company opts to simply pay them out. But it is not guranteed that the originally striking workers would get their fair share.

Mothlanthe also bemoaned the disconnect between the shop stewards, often educated beyond their peers, and their constituents.

“When they negotiate, invariably, they are likely to sign once the percentage offered makes sense to them as individuals. So the lower-rung has no voice, and their interests are only addressed in mass-meetings.”

By Berndt Hannweg