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Black S. Africa Mine Workers in Appeal

October 26, 1985|LEONARD GREENWOOD | Times Staff Writer

An appeal for moral and material support for black South African mine workers in their fight for union rights and an end to apartheid was made in Los Angeles on Friday by an official of the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa.

Manoko Nchwe, a woman who directs information and research for the union, told a press conference that the union, which has 150,000 paid-up members and which is trying organize all South Africa's 800,000 black mine workers, had to suspend its strike in September after the mining companies bought ammunition, shotguns, and armored cars and employed private police units to break up the strike.

"On the day of the strike, workers were brutally crushed," Nchwe said. "They were baton charged, shot at with rubber bullets and finally were forced to go underground and work at gun point."

Nchwe said the union was formed in 1982 to unionize corporations mining 11 minerals in South Africa, including gold, coal and diamonds. "The mining industry, especially gold mining, is the backbone of the South African economy," she said.

Migrant Labor Used

The industry is maintained, she said, by migrant labor from neighboring African countries or from the black homelands, the parts of South Africa the government has set aside for black settlement with limited self-rule. Migrant laborers come to the country on annual contracts, going back home to visit their families three weeks a year, she said.

Abey Le Roux, the union's regional chairman in Namaqualand, said that safety conditions in South African mines are sometimes very bad. Underground, it is sometimes very hot and "the miners will sometimes collapse of heat stroke."

The union, Nchwe said, set out to pressure big national and international companies that mine in South Africa to raise wages for black workers by 22% and to end the policy of reserving the best jobs with the highest pay for white workers.

South African legislation, Nchwe said, sets aside the top 13 job categories in the mining industry for whites. "For instance, black people cannot become (full-fledged) miners. They cannot have any blasting certificate. . . . They cannot rise up the (income) ladder because they cannot get promoted."

Forced to Halt Strike

The union settled with three big corporations, but when three other giants refused to settle, the union announced a strike.

In the face of armed opposition, "we were forced to suspend the strike and take the whole issue to the Industrial Court, " Nchwe said. The final judgment had been expected within two weeks, but the case has been delayed by technical postponements. In the meantime, the union is preparing a nationwide strike.

"We are looking for moral and material support," Nchwe said. "We cannot have a strike fund. It is illegal for the unions inside South Africa to have a strike fund. But what the United Mineworkers of America have done is establish a Humanitarian Aid Fund for the mine workers in South Africa."

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