DRIEFONTEIN, South Africa (AP) — In a speech punctuated by cheers and the blowing of whistles and vuvuzelas, firebrand politician Julius Malema called Tuesday for a national strike in all South African mines, encouraging a step-up of a strike that has already halted production at several platinum and gold mines.
Malema told thousands of striking miners at a gold mine that this nation's critically important mining industry should be stopped in its tracks to force the removal of the leadership of the country's National Union of Mineworkers, which is cozy with the power elite, including South African President Jacob Zuma, Malema's archenemy.
"There must be a national strike. They have been stealing this gold from you. Now it is your turn. You want your piece of gold. These people are making billions from these mines," Malema said.
Malema won loudest cheers when he said: "You must be treated like human beings. You must also be respected." Many of the strikers gathered in a soccer field at the west section of Gold Fields International's KDC gold mine carried traditional sticks and blew on vuvuzelas, plastic horns that the world came to know during the 2010 soccer World Cup.
Miner unrest has become a central issue in South Africa since police shot and killed 34 striking miners and wounded 78 on Aug. 16 at Marikana, a platinum mine owned by Lonmin PLC.
Some 12,000 miners at east KDC staged a weeklong illegal strike that ended Sept. 3 to demand the removal of NUM shop stewards. More than 10,000 workers halted operations Sunday night at the west section of Gold Fields International's KDC gold mine. The strikers are demanding the removal of NUM shop stewards and a minimum monthly wage of 12,500 rand ($1,560).
"The strike from Marikana must go into all the mines to make 12,500 a reality," Malema said, denying that his earlier call to make the nation's mines "ungovernable" promotes violence.
"When we say to you we must render the mines ungovernable people think we are talking violence...they don't know our history. We made South Africa ungovernable under the apartheid government peacefully. What you must do, you just put down the tools and stop production," Malema said.
Malema was expelled from the ruling African National Congress earlier this year for sowing disunity and failing to show remorse or willingness to accept party discipline. Malema, a former leader of the ANC's youth wing, alleges he was targeted because of his political differences with Zuma and other senior ANC members.
Leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers Zuma's bid for re-election as president of the ANC at a December congress. But many miners accuse the NUM of being more concerned about politics and business than the shop-floor needs of miners who complain they do not earn enough to feed their families and send their children to school.