About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

14 Jul 1992: Motlanthe, Kgalema

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POM     Mr. Motlanthe, maybe you can begin by giving me a little bit of background about yourself: where you were born, what your experiences were, the young person, how you became involved in the labour movement and your evolution to the point of where you are now the leader of the largest union in SA.

KM     I was born in Alexandra Township on 19th July 1949, to a working class family. We were a family of six, one girl and three boys. I am the older of the boys. My mother was a washer woman and later became a machinist in a clothing factory until she was pensioned off. My father worked for Anglo-American head office in the purchasing department. He also worked there until he was pensioned off. My sister is married to someone who worked and is still working for Anglo-American. My two younger brothers, one is still working for Anglo-American in the computer department and the other one worked for Anglo-American for six months and got pissed off because, as a young person he had the tendency of questioning things and each time he tried that, a family gathering would be convened by old men and my brother in-law, to counsel him as to how he should respond to his work environment. He got pissed off and he quit after six months. He then went and did a computer course where he qualified as a computer technician. My brother in-law would not speak to him, my father also took treated him with disdain, until they were persuaded that he had come of his own once he was ready to marry. Only then did they reconcile. I am saying these things because it will give you a sense of what Anglo-American is able to do as a company, they offer people all manner of perks and continually get them to have a sense of belonging, such that when they speak of Anglo-American they think of it as a family business.

KM     So, I am the only one who never really worked for Anglo-American as it were. I attended school in Orlando High School up to matric level. My family moved from, perhaps just to get back to the family, we moved from Alexandra Township to Meadowlands, which is part of Soweto in 1969 and I then attended school in Meadowlands. However, because at that time there was no high school in Meadowlands, after completing secondary education, I went to Orlando High School. After matriculating I then worked for the City Council. They had what they called the commercial department, which was a glorified name for bottle-stores and agricultural marketing in the townships. I worked for about seven years as a supervisor of the Johannesburg Council bottle-stores in the townships.

KM     In 1976 April, that is two months before the uprisings in Soweto, I was arrested and charged on the Terrorism Act and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of fifteen years.

POM     What age were you at this point?

KM     I was thirty-five. I effectively served eleven, was released in 1987.

POM     Did you go to Robben Island?

KM     Yes and I was released in 1987 April, and in on 1st June I joined the NUM as an Education Officer. I have been with them ever since. I have been the Education Co-ordination since 1988 and in January the Central Committee - you see it was Cyril's departure last year when he was elected as Secretary General of the ANC in July, Marcel Golding was his assistant then and then acted as the General Secretary, but because our constitution did not provide for an assistant to be an Acting SG, there was a bit of a problem. He was saddled with these responsibilities alone. The Central Committee was then convened in January and it elected me as the Acting General Secretary until the next Congress in 1994.

POM     The eleven years you spent on Robben Island, would you look on those years as your formative years in terms of the development of your own philosophy and your convictions and the need of what has to be done in this country?

KM     I think the years on the Island were the most enriching of my life, but I would say that one's philosophy was shaped by early years of an association with a religious sect of the Anglican Church called the Community of the Resurrection. These are priests who came from England and New Zealand, who had taken the vows of celibacy, Archbishop Trevor Huddleston belonged to that sect actually. They were the first people who were doing visible social welfare work in the townships and one came into contact with them at a very early age. As one grew up, at one point I thought I was going to become a priest actually. I was an altar boy for many, many years and I think that is really what shaped one's life. These people lived communal lives, they had a common approach to things and basically shared everything that they had with whoever happened to be at the mission at that point in time. To me at that time, they were quite an eye opener in that here were whites who were prepared to do ordinary chores like washing their own dishes, etc., at that time it was quite an experience in that in Johannesburg there was no place where blacks could buy food and enjoy it except on a pavement, but here were whites who would walk into any home in the townships and share basically anything they had, and that is really what shaped ones philosophy in general.

POM     You say the years in Robben Island were the most enriching years in your life, could you elaborate a little on that?

KM     These were very enriching years in that we were a community of people who ranged from the totally illiterate to people who could very easily have been professors at universities. We shared basically everything, every problem even of a personal nature we discussed with others and a solution would be found. The years out there were the most productive years in one's live, we were able to read, we read all the material that came our way, took an interest in the lives of people even in the remotest corners of this world. To me those years gave meaning to life. For the first time I began to understand why people would want to record their memoirs of pride, like when people get married, etc. It gave one an understanding of what life is all about.

POM     Have you found in your experience that sometimes prisoners who are part of that kind of community, with the enormous sense of sharing, that when they get back into the outside world they have difficulty establishing those kind of very close relationships?

KM     Yes, that we do miss. Political prisoners initially were not even allowed to smoke, it was an offence according to prison regulations for a political prisoner to be found smoking. There were two prisons then. The one was a prison for what they call common-law prisoners or criminals, and the other was for political prisoners. The common-law prisoners were allowed to smoke and purchase tobacco and so on. Sometimes they would supply the political prisoners with tobacco. I am a non-smoker myself, but it always amazed me how anyone who would get a little bit of tobacco would not choose to smoke it alone but would bring it back to the prison and if a cigarette was rolled then all smokers would get a puff out of it. That actually created the foundations for the establishment of a common ground for even later years. We all came from different backgrounds, some people didn't have contact at all, there were people who had had no contact with their families for periods of up to seventeen years, no correspondence, nothing. But because of this common pool where all things were shared, tobacco, toiletries, etc., you could never ever immediately identify those who had contact and those who didn't have contact with their families. The underlying philosophy for that approach was that, because we also had structured study groups and political discussion groups, it was important for anyone to reserve the right to speak their most honest opinion on any matter under discussion, regardless. Therefore it was important not to have these extra-economic considerations pulling their weight in the discussions. There was a deliberate attempt to throw out any devolvement of any dependence, be it on studies or whatever, so that even the leadership would never impose their views on us, they would express their views and those views would be open to discussion.

POM     How did your prison experience prepare you to assume the presidency of NUM?

KM     It helped me a lot in the sense that we had people who were one hundred percent illiterate in prison, who were transformed into levels of intellectual competence. One had a lot of experience in getting people who are illiterate to understand concepts and that was very helpful for me because our membership in the mining industry are also at first semi-literate and yet they are also compelled to understand intricate problems of an economic nature, intricate problems within the industry itself and these have to be explained in their own language to enable them to participate meaningfully, that is something that I learned during my years in prison.

POM     I want to jump a bit and relate that answer to some very recent developments in the country on the political side, that is the offer made in CODESA by the ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance to provide a 75% veto threshold on matters that would go into a Bill of Rights and a 70% threshold on provisions for the constitution; was there a reaction in your membership to those quotas, that they were so high, that they seemed to be "selling-out"?

KM     The understanding of our members was that this government was a major problem and still is. If you remember the Harare Declaration on South Africa, it provided for a number of things; the first one being the creation of a climate conducive to political activity, and that called for the unbanning of political organisations, the lifting of the state of emergency, the release of political prisoners, the repatriation of those in exile, that was the first step. The second step called for the cessation of hostilities and some arrangement as to what would happen to armed forces. The third step provided for preliminary discussions around principles of the democratic constitution, that once there was broad consensus achieved on those broad principles, then a body of all political forces would then be convened at which body those principles would be tabled and, once accepted, the question of who of what manner of body should flesh out those principles into a full constitution would then arise.

     The view of the ANC/COSATU/SACP alliance was that that body would then have to be democratically elected, a Constituent Assembly, but if it was to be democratically elected, that would mean somebody would have to supervise those elections and the question of the interim government came up. The question was, could this government be trusted to be both player and referee in the elections and the answer was no, they needed an interim body of national unity, bringing in all other players to supervise the elections, and then and only then, would a body be in a position to flesh out the democratic principles of a constitution into a full constitution.

     Now, this body, this first body that was to be convened, was not to be weighted in parties that participated because some parties have participated in elections, others haven't, some parties keep membership records, others don't, and therefore that body, in those instances it was to be called an All-Party Congress, and it came to be known as CODESA.

     During the course of these developments happening in fact, the steps that I have outlined could be followed strictly in a sequential manner, in other words it could very easily give it a balance; if you said let the atmosphere be created first, let all political prisoners be released, and then you run into some deadlocks even around those issues (there are still people on death row for instance), because you are dealing with the definition, the SA government relied quite a lot on Professor ??? definition, (who was in the Namibian situation) in defining political offences whereas in SA you had a mass of activities around 1984 which did not readily admit into that definition. There were people who did not necessarily belong to this or that formation who participated in the struggle against SA and who regard themselves as political prisoners. In any case, in SA there were a lot of people who were arrested, for instance, for pass law offences, and those were political laws, because this person committed no other crime except the fact that he didn't have the right documents on him. Now such a person would normally not be a criminal per se, but the definition by Professor ??? would then exclude these kinds of people, because apartheid has been a unique problem because it was steeped in racist tendencies.

     The point I am making is that the liberation movement could very easily have said we want all these things to be met sequentially. But the ANC chose not to take that path, it dealt with them simultaneously in that even before all political prisoners were released, once an undertaking was secured with time frames, they unilaterally suspended the armed struggle, which question, strictly speaking, belonged to the second step. They went on also to have bilateral discussions around things which were for the constitution, almost simultaneously, so that you have here a sequential approach arrangement and I think the PAC, even though initially it was opposed to the Harare Declaration, came now to see itself as a watchdog for adherence to the Harare Declaration's letter in a sequential fashion, and sometimes they misread the simultaneous process to be an abandonment of the Harare Declaration, or a deviation, when in fact here it was a question of approaches, whether to take this sequentially or actually treat some of these issues simultaneously.

     All this generated lots of optimism in a broad section of the SA society, all these talks about talks generated a lot of optimism. But then came a jolting revelation that of the Inkathagate scandal, the fact that the SA government was actually continuing keeping these secret squads and was also training, abetting and funding Inkatha as well as a pillar against ANC popularity. That changed perceptions, it forced the ANC/COSATU/SACP alliance to say that it is no use for us to continue saying remove all obstacles because this government is incapable of removing all those obstacles, it is itself an obstacle. Therefore it would be foolhardy of us to become prisoners of our own demand for the removal of obstacles, therefore perhaps the right thing to do is for us to say let this major obstacle go, and the major obstacle in this instance is the SA government. Means and ways of developing the shortest route towards a democratically elected Constituent Assembly were therefore devised. The offer at CODESA of this threshold of 70% and 75% barriers was informed by the desire to ensure that they crossover because the understanding was that once an interim government is in place, it will then be in a position to remove the remaining obstacles and that it was in the government's interests to keep on creating these obstacles. More especially, violence was seen in that context.

POM     So part of this offer was made to speed the process around so that the alliance could become part of an interim government that could then have a hand on the security apparatus and bring the violence under control. I have particularly been fascinated by the figure of 75% because in my previous conversations here, much attention has been given to the importance of the Bill of Rights, particularly the importance of a Bill of Rights in entrenching second generation rights, or laying the groundwork for economic rights so that political emancipation would also mean in some way economic emancipation; and yet when most survey data shows that the government and its allies could probably put together a blocking alliance with twenty-five percent, it looked as though important aspects of the Bill of Rights were being sacrificed on the altar of expediency.

KM     Not quite. The thinking of the alliance is that whilst on the surface the SA government appears to have on its side a number of allies, those allies really have no following, they are discredited creations of the apartheid regime itself. If you take people like Lucas Mangope for instance in Bophuthatswana, he has absolutely no following there, he runs the area like the village tyrant and given a chance, people would definitely vote against him, the same applies to Gatsha Buthelezi in KwaZulu, because he runs that place as a one-party state practically, where no other political organisations are allowed to visit. He has imposed such stringent measures to the structure of chiefs that you can't bury your dead in some villages unless you are a card carrying member, you can't even marry in some villages unless you are a card carrying member, your kids can't be enrolled in a school unless you are a card carrying member and they themselves are card carrying members. If you are a medical practitioner you can't have a surgery in any of the villages unless you are a card carrying member. There are a whole lot of people who are card carrying members of Inkatha, who vow that they have taken up these cards in order to live long enough to be able to vote against Inkatha, and that is why if you observe the nature of the opposition to these structures, there is one thing they fear (and that goes for the government as well), those are open and fair elections based on one-person-one-vote in spite of all these activities which they have enacted. They know that when the crunch comes, they cannot muster enough votes and that is why they try to pack the threshold as high as possible.

     From the ANC side, they had to then weigh the chances of whether to deadlock because of it, or we call the bluff and beat them at their own game, purely on the basis of goodwill. It was felt that there is a great majority of people in this country who are yearning for democracy and that those people would not be duped once elections come to support what is basically a discredited regime.

POM     Why would the alliance go as far as seventy-five percent on a Bill of Rights but not on the Constituent Assembly?

KM     On the Bill of Rights it was felt that the threshold ought to be at seventy-five because if the Bill of Rights is to have meaning and enjoy legitimacy, short of saying one hundred percent we had to say seventy-five percent, at least that is one thing that we would want to put in place on the basis of an overwhelming majority basically, rather than just on a simple two-thirds majority, as distinct from the Constituent Assembly, because there then the ANC compromised in order to break the logjam, but the understanding is that the internationally accepted simple majority is the one that ought to be operative.

POM     What was the reaction from your membership to the proposal and how is it seen through their eyes, particularly since the seventy percent has now been withdrawn?

KM     There was the policy conference where the delegates took the decision that we were accommodating but the government is clearly recalcitrant. From a political point of view, this is seen as an on-going struggle of exposing the government's bona fides, to the extent that the government was seen to be obstinate. It only served to expose its unwillingness to accept democracy in spite all of its pronouncements. So in that regard, the politicians are able to give this a particular slant to be disseminated to the general rank and file membership, so that it becomes easier for the rank and file membership not to view it as perhaps a situation in which the negotiating team had gone too far, but that the government's bluff was called and the government was unable to deliver.

POM     Was there any sense among your membership of the negotiating having gone too far?

KM     Oh yes, certainly. You must understand that because our structures are not really geared up for (by our structures I am referring to the structures of the alliance as a whole) dynamic consultation and mandate, unlike in the unions. In our union it is made easier by the fact that we have branches of people who live in the grassroots and you can therefore send a report back today and convene a meeting today and get a report back tomorrow and a mandate on what position to take. But the ANC is not like that, the structures don't really allow for that kind of dynamism, so that in a way sometimes the negotiating proceeds at a pace that is a bit too fast for rank and file membership, they get report-backs from time to time on what major hurdles have been jumped, but half the time, they are lagging far behind the negotiating team.

KM     I think sometimes negotiators also develop skills of moving problems around the table which can also become a weakness in that it can actually be done even without going back to the constituencies.

POM     Your union is in a position to provide fairly instantaneous feedback to the alliance to give them a measure of the pulse of opinion among your membership and in this case the pulse would have said you have gone too far, there is a lot of dissatisfaction, they don't understand what is going on.

POM     Coming back more particularly to the union. Your union, occupying the pivotal place that it does amongst SA unions, is on the one hand a union that represents its membership and on the other hand is part of the fellowship of the liberation movement. How does it balance its responsibilities to each if they come into conflict or do they sometimes come into conflict?

KM     They rarely ever come into conflict and I must say that during the years of the ANC's illegality our union was one of those that played a key role in keeping the name, goodwill and flag of the ANC in the people's minds. Our union elected Nelson as its Honorary Life President, our union was the first to adopt the Freedom Charter as a guiding policy document and it was then followed by other COSATU affiliates and COSATU ultimately as a federation. We have always had these close working relations with the ANC. I was personally appointed by the ANC NEC, at the time of its unbanning as its convenor of the PWV region and I was actually the Chairperson. By virtue of that I was part of the internal leadership corps which was charged with the responsibility of preparing for the return of the NEC of the ANC into the country.

     Our members are recruited not only from the backwoods of SA, but Southern Africa, ninety-three thousand Basotho workers work in SA mines. Only last week we were in Lesotho with the president of the union and even in Lesotho as they are preparing for elections there, our union is a major factor because ninety-three thousand Basotho workers work in SA mines and their political philosophy is shaped through their participation in the struggle to de-rationalise structures within the mines. They take with them, when they go on leave, that sense of organisation to the neighbouring states and the backwoods of SA. Therefore even the ANC regions nationally, to a great extent, are influenced by our members who have a great input in those branches. We are a truly national union in that we organise mines and we have branches right across the length and breadth of this country. In that sense we are strategically placed to influence the ANC without formally coming to an alliance meeting but through our members in all the villages.

     If you go to the Transkei, we already had a structure of dismissed mine workers in twenty-eight districts in the Transkei by the time of the unbanning. It was really those structures which served the corps of establishing ANC branches. If you go to the Western Transvaal it is the same story because those are essentially mining towns, you go to the Northern Kimberley region, those are mining towns, you go to the Free State, the Eastern Transvaal, the Highveld, it is the same story, those are mining towns.

POM     Just to bring you back since you mentioned the Basotho workers who were involved in the incident at the President Steyn mine during the stayaway in November, over that. I have seen a number of what would be regarded as responsible writers, who would coat that in terms of Xhosa-speaking workers who wanted to support the strike and not work and Basotho workers who wanted to work, which resulted in a collision along basically an ethnic line, with up to sixty-nine workers killed and a hundred and eighty five injured, with the mine being temporarily closed; they were using it as an illustration of the kind of difficulties a national strike can run into when it has these unintended consequences which aggravate the situation, or create new situations of conflict.

POM     In your view would that have been an accurate recounting of what happened in President Steyn mine?

KM     It is partly true, only partly true, in that in the mines you find that because people are recruited from all over Southern Africa that our union has succeeded in uniting these people, from Mozambique, Botswana, SA, Lesotho, Swaziland, into one union with a common approach. But at the same time, conditions in the hostels are such that tempers are always frayed there, and the mines have always tried to use the indunas, when they recruit people from a particular village, they also recruit someone from the chieftaincy and they bring that person into the mine. That person's work is to keep the divisions going, it is part of their system of control, they call it an 'induna system' because these are traditionally indunas. So that the worker would not only come under pressure from mine management, but would also come under pressure from someone who represents his chieftaincy, from his village. The aim was actually to ensure that these workers are not unionised at all. But because the problems that confront them are not imaginary, they are real problems, they have no choice but to belong to a union.

     After the 1987 strike, for instance, Anglo-American alone dismissed fifty-thousand workers. When they recruited back thirty thousand of them, they made them sign at the TEBA recruitment centres an undertaking that they would not join a union, but when they come back to the mines, it only takes them a month or two to rejoin the union because they find that without the union they are abused as sub-humans basically and it is only through a union that they find some form of protection.

     When a worker leaves his work station and says 'I am going home' he doesn't actually leave mine property, he remains on mine property in the hostels (single sex hostels) and movement in and out of that hostel is strictly restricted. As a result of that, the situation is always volatile.

     Then you have a situation where mining houses bring in killer squads like Koevoet into the mines. Recently the Koevoet units that were used to kill people in Namibia, were being housed in a mine in Greenside Colliery in the Witbank region, and it is through these kinds of people that they are able to instigate violence. Even in the past, our union was only able to contain tribal faction fights by giving advice to membership. You must understand what used to happen, the mine recruits these people from different villages, brings them to the mines and houses them along ethnic lines, so that you have Block A, for instance, housing Basotho workers, Block B housing Xhosa workers, Block C housing Shangaan speaking workers. Now, in that kind of situation or circumstances, it becomes that much easier for them to have an agent provocateur say from amongst the Xhosa speaking miners, who is able to do this kind of dirty work, start a fight with the Basothos. All that they need to do, (these were some of the things that we were able to uncover from experience), the Basotho workers go back to their block and they are told that the Xhosas are preparing to attack, simultaneously as that message is being conveyed, somebody else is conveying a similar message to the Xhosa block. The natural response is for people to try and see whether this can be confirmed visibly and as they all go to their windows to take up strategic positions, it confirms on both sides that something is afoot there. Thereafter all it takes is a little spark and you have a faction fight.

     We had to say to these people that if a person comes to you, even if you are housed along ethnic lines, always struggle to do away with this ethnicity. In some mines we have succeeded, they are totally wholly integrated. We had to say to them if a person comes to you and says the Pondos are preparing to attack you, you are the ones who must be sick and tired of this, you must question that person very closely. That is what actually contained the faction fights sometimes.

     I am saying these things to indicate to you how easy it is in the mines for those who want to bring about trouble to actually succeed. The conditions admit very readily to that kind of thing. In the President Steyn thing, it was discovered that some people who died there were not employed in that mine.

     Then on the other side, there is an informal structure of marshals whose role is crowd control. A couple of years ago, during the outbreak of AIDS in Southern Africa, the government together with the Chamber of Mines, took a decision to change this policy of recruitment. They repatriated all the people from Malawi, then they said they wanted to go for a much more stable work force and they cut down on workers from Mozambique as well. They started recruiting from the backwoods of SA, like Transkei and these other homelands. The recruits that they brought onto the mines were people who came from communities that were also involved in this or that struggle against apartheid oppression, these were young people who sometimes are over-zealous. In their over-zealousness they sometimes alienate elderly workers, and that also can lead to violence erupting. We from our side have always tried to tell them that every decision must be discussed, nobody must be coerced into doing what they don't want to do.

POM     Just a couple of follow up questions: 1) in your negotiations, do you continually push for the integration of hostels? Is management opposed to that?

KM     Management is opposed to that.

POM     How about the workers themselves, is there opposition amongst the workers?

KM     Not quite. They come in groups from a particular village and they are divided on the mine as part of a system of control so that the worker is put under pressure about what potential punitive measures have been taken against his family back in the village, and there is always the threat of the contract not be renewed as well, etc. So, those of them who do ultimately become unionised do that at the risk of facing the wrath of the chief in the village. Sometimes they themselves have to be so unionised that it must become quite apparent, very clear to the induna that there is not much he can do about it, even back in the village. So there has always been that kind of struggle. Sometimes, when situations of conflict erupt, the natural reaction is for people to go back to their own, when all fails, fall back into ethnic groupings, so that is like a natural unit and even with the Basotho workers, our President is from Lesotho, he has got lots and lots of people from Lesotho, across the political spectrum there. Part of our mission last week when we went to Lesotho was really to brief the political parties there, to share with them our vision of the future of the mining industry in Southern Africa, not only in SA. We had to brief the King, the Minister of Employment, different political parties, the church formations, etc., because it is easy for people in Lesotho, when workers are retrenched, for some mischievous elements to say only Basotho workers are being retrenched. When situations of violence erupt in the mines they say only Basotho workers are being killed etc., which was very easy for people to boldly pronounce. We then had to go there and put the picture straight.

POM     There have been tens of thousands of retrenchments in the mining industry over the last number of years. As you approach now the situation of a threatened strike, in which your union would participate, what kind of feedback are you getting from the mines? Are they saying if you go on strike this is going to cost us hundreds of millions of rands and there are going to have to be even more lay-offs? Are they using the threat of labour, of job losses to try to pull you in line?

KM     Not quite. The thing about mining is that you are dealing with depleting deposits and that is a reality. If you were producing Coca-Cola we would then say no, this management is playing tricks, but mining is not like that. You know for certain that this mine is left with two years of reproduction, this one is really in the sick bed, this one has still got a life expectancy of thirty years or whatever; even with the deposits, with the grade of the ore, you are able to say here there is still lots of good ore, there we are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. So, we ourselves are under no illusions about the potential down-scaling in the industry.

     That is why we initiated a mining industry summit to work out with all the unions in the mining industry, the Chamber itself and the government how to manage the down-scaling of these operations and possible closure. Right now there is a mine in Harmony (in Virginia) where we are involved in talks with the government. Everything around Virginia hinges on that mine, the mine is on the brink of closure. If it closes down it will be reduced to a ghost town. The government is not seeing the need to direct these mining houses to restore (say if the mine is left with five years) to take steps to restore the environment, they expect to attract investors into such particular areas who can establish alternative operations that can absorb that situation. It may not even be amiss for me to say that, save for Johannesburg, the rest of the other towns in SA remain mining towns. Johannesburg is the only town that developed as a result of mining on which it is no longer dependent.

POM     You don't feel with this kind of threatened general strike approach, you don't feel that any pressure from the mine owners saying no, if we participate in this strike it means more money is lost, the marginal mines will go under, it will mean more lay-offs, so that you have got to balance the lay-offs that might result from that action as against the political work of the action itself?

KM     We are not romantics, we don't believe that one general strike can bring down a government or the country as it were. We wouldn't actually plunge our members into something that doesn't exist. We believe that any strike ought to be a strike that is based on the problems that affect workers in that particular mine. We take the view that we will participate in mass action in the best possible way without necessarily putting the jobs of our members on the line, because the situation that is facing the mining industry is no secret, it is well known to all the parties, the ANC in particular understand that very well. But we have got to make some very hard decisions, accepting wage increases that are far below the inflation rate. In situations of retrenchments, for instance, if a mine is left with two years, those who accept the retrenchment package get something substantial, those who remain behind and therefore keep their jobs, run the risk of getting nothing.

KM     Those are pretty hard decisions, so that because we have been involved in these kinds of decisions and confronted by the real concrete problems we have been tempered not to play games, we don't play games at all.

POM     Would I be correct in summarising your position as being that while you are in favour of mass action and mass mobilisation, you do not favour mass action that takes the form of putting jobs and scarce jobs on the line, particularly in an industry which is already declining and losing tens of thousands of jobs every year?

KM     Let me put it to you this way, we have mines that have said as long as the price of gold remains at this level, we just have to chop six or seven thousand workers. We have said to them, no, let's cushion that, let's see how that can worked out, let's look at retrenchment packages for instance. That in itself is a struggle. Now, if we say to our members go on a general strike, those mining houses would save a lot by merely dismissing those workers and not offering them retrenchment packages and rationalising. They would welcome that. In fact I think some mining houses actually try and instigate a general strike.

PAT     How can you then help us understand the political dynamics of this strike, the national strike, as a third phase of the mass action and how that part of the strategy works in the alliance?

KM     It is not a final decision, it is a recommendation. The COSATU Central Executive Committee said by the twentieth that affiliates should come back and in fact they recommended two days. They said the final decision will be taken on the seventeenth and we have convened a special National Executive for this coming weekend to get feedback from the different regions on how we should handle this. Because we are still, even today, dealing with the problems of dismissals that arose as a result of the fourth and fifth anti-VAT action. As I said to you there are mines that want to retrench with whom we were negotiating retrenchment packages that would be acceptable, who would more than welcome this kind of action, because they could then simply dismiss without having to give anything.

POM     I have dozens of other questions but I guess they will have to wait. One very quick one is on the ANC's recent economic policy document which emphasised the campaign for a living wage but not for a minimum wage. That struck us as particularly odd when even in the most capitalist economy in the world like the US, there is a minimum wage and that is what trade unionism is about, that there should be minimum floors below which no worker should be paid. Does that present a problem to you as a trade unionist?

KM     Not at all, because we believe that it would be easy for us to persuade the ANC to accept the concept of a minimum wage. We understand the constraints that operate on the ANC. In fact that is why we have always professed independent trade unionism, that the labour movement should always remain independent of any political party. We think the labour movement is an organ of civil society that helps to exert pressure on any government including a democratic government. We address the needs of our members and workers.

POM     Thank you very much.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.