* Dissidents say many workers oppose strike
* AMCU's Mathunjwa denies cracks in union
* Damaging platinum strike set for Thursday
* President's displays of wealth raise eye-brows
By Zandi Shabalala and Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, Jan 21 Dissidents in South
Africa's AMCU union are forming a rival to the militant labour
group, accusing its leadership of recklessly pursuing a damaging
strike in the country's platinum sector which many miners do not
want and cannot afford.
The stakes are high as the Association of Mineworkers and
Construction Union plans to strike on Thursday over wages at the
world's top three producers in a showdown between companies
battling to maintain margins and workers struggling to feed
South Africa's ailing economy cannot afford more mine labour
unrest, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Monday, as
investor confidence in the country's mining sector hits bottom
and the rand is trading near 5-year lows.
Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum
and Lonmin, which account for over half of world output,
can ill afford stoppages after being battered by wildcat strikes
in 2012 rooted in a turf war between AMCU and the National Union
of Mineworkers (NUM), in which dozens of people were killed.
AMCU's charismatic president, Joseph Mathunjwa, is under
pressure to deliver on promises of a "living wage" of 12,500
rand ($1,200) a month on the platinum belt, more than double
But some accuse him of losing touch with rank and file
concerns and setting the stage for a protracted strike that will
"Many people don't want to strike," said Thebe Maswabi, a
former AMCU shop steward at Amplats who is part of the group
that says it plans to form a new union.
"There is nothing to show that Mathunjwa will bring us the
money now, and this union is not stable. So why should we trust
that he will deliver this money," he said.
Other union sources also say there was a concerted attempt
to form a rival to AMCU, which is now the dominant union in the
platinum shafts after poaching tens of thousands of NUM members.
"We were approached two weeks ago and asked if we wanted to
help register a new trade union and breakaway group," Gideon du
Plessis, General Secretary of the trade union Solidarity, which
represents mostly skilled workers, told Reuters.
"But we said we don't want to do that and further damage our
fragile relationship with AMCU," he said.
Miners may struggle to hold out if the strike drags on. The
typical South African mine worker has eight dependants, many of
whom are peasants in rural areas far from the shafts.
This stokes their demands but also means they cannot survive
for long without an income.
"We are tired of strikes," said Gaddafi Mdoda, one of the
leaders of the 2012 strikes who is now part of the movement to
create a new union.
"If you visit each and every room of the mine workers, the
fridges are empty. It's January. Now if they are going to go on
strike in February how are they going to start up the year with
empty pockets?," he said.
AMCU's leaders deny there are cracks and on Sunday, when the
strike vote was taken for Amplats, it put on a show of force
with a rally attended by around 15,000 members who greeted
Mathunjwa like a rock star.
"We don't have any disgruntled members in AMCU structures,"
Mathunjwa said on Tuesday on public broadcaster SABC.
The most recent data shows no sign of AMCU's growth cooling
off. In mid-December, figures supplies to Reuters by Amplats
showed the union had increased its membership at the company to
60 percent from 40 percent five months before.
No figures have been released for January.
AMCU's critics accuse its of using violence and intimidation
in pursuit of its agenda and when large numbers of its members
gather in their trade-mark green shirts, it is hard to gauge if
the support shown is genuine or enforced.
There is potential for violence as the remaining NUM members
in platinum, who have already signed wage agreements, are not
going on strike and are being urged to go to work.
"We are expecting our members to go to work as usual because
NUM is not on strike. We want the companies to protect the
employees who are going to work," NUM spokesman Livhuwani
Mammburu told Reuters.
Mathunjwa is also facing scrutiny for recent displays of
wealth and power. At Sunday's rally he showed up in a brand new
Lexus car with a trio of white bodyguards - an image at odds
with his message of black African nationalism and Christian
compassion for the poor.
This raises eyebrows as AMCU rose to the top of the platinum
belt by exploiting rank and file perceptions that its arch rival
NUM rival had grown too close to management.
"The union leadership needs to understand that they are
spending the workers goodwill in a confrontation like this one,"
said political analyst Nic Borain.
"And that's a currency that is easily devalued if the
leadership shows poor judgement and the president drives a Lexus
and behaves like a rock star at the expense of the real and
painful sacrifices the workers are being required to make."