The first president
of the NUM,
James Motlatsi
Johannesburg, South Africa — 07 June 2013 – South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has allowed a powerful rival to emerge and to end its dominance by arrogantly disregarding a small group of defectors 15 years ago.    

“The NUM should have worked to recruit those members back, instead of ignoring a dissident branch of no more than 2,000 miners when the union was around 300,000 strong,” said James Motlatsi “’ the union’s first president “’ in an interview with Bloomberg News. “I think it was arrogance.”

The leader of the breakaway group, Joseph Mathunjwa, went on to form the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) with other workers at coal mines after leaving the NUM in 1998. AMCU has since increased to a majority of the workforce at some mines, while the NUM, established more than three decades ago, has lost members.

The decline of what was South Africa’s biggest labour union has been accompanied by violent inter-union rivalry that has spread from platinum mines around Rustenburg in the north-west to chrome and gold mines, shaving half a percentage point off economic growth in 2012. The power struggle is disrupting wage talks in the country’s biggest export industry and may cost thousands of jobs. It’s also threatening the ruling African National Congress, which has an alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions, NUM’s parent organisation.

The NUM may have lost support among mineworkers because some members perceived the union to be out of touch with their needs, said Justin Froneman, a Johannesburg-based analyst with Standard Bank Group Limited’s securities unit. “The NUM became effectively too close to management,” ha added.

The AMCU has more than doubled its membership in less than a year to 120,000, according to Mathunjwa. The NUM lost about 38,000 members in the year through February to end at 285,000.

Motlatsi co-founded the NUM in 1982 with Cyril Ramaphosa, now the ANC’s deputy president For the NUM to recover its supremacy among unionised miners, it will need to recognise and address its errors, said Motlatsi, who led the organisation for 18 years.

To be sure, AMCU’s growing popularity will also pose challenges to the organisation, Motlatsi continued. The AMCU will now have to lead platinum, gold and coal wage negotiations in forums that were largely set up by the NUM, he said. AMCU, which says it expects to submit wage demands by June 10, may struggle to satisfy the aspirations of its members as it takes control of increasingly larger numbers, according to Motlatsi.

Source: Bloomberg News. For more information, click here.