Black Mine Union Ends Strike in South Africa

Times Staff Writer

The National Union of Mineworkers, South Africa’s largest black union, called off its three-day-old strike against three of the country’s biggest mining companies Tuesday after 5,000 of its members were fired.

Urging miners to return to work, the union’s executive council said it was acting to save their jobs, to prevent further violence in the pits, where more than 140 people have been injured, and to challenge in court the companies’ right under South African labor law to dismiss strikers.

Meanwhile, serious unrest continued in Cape Town as mixed-race youths stoned cars, set government offices and shops afire and erected barricades of burning tires and oil drums around their townships and across several major roads. The police fired tear-gas grenades, rubber bullets and birdshot at the youths. At nightfall, the main road from the airport into town was closed because of the rioting.

10 Organizers Held

Ten community organizers were arrested in early-morning raids there under security laws that permit indefinite detention in solitary confinement without trial. The disturbances began last week when police arrested the Rev. Allan Boesak, a prominent anti-apartheid activist and Colored leader, under these laws and then broke up a march he had planned to Pollsmoor Prison, where black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela is held.

In Soweto, the sprawling black city outside Johannesburg, thousands of students left their classes and poured into the streets in a demonstration marking the first anniversary of the start of unrest that has killed more than 675 people, most of them black. Police dispersed students in one Soweto neighborhood with tear gas after they began stoning cars, but elsewhere they took no action.


One man was shot and killed, police said, in a firebomb attack on a police patrol in Duncan Village, a black ghetto outside East London, where more than 25 blacks have died during the last month in clashes with police.

Companies Prevail

Although the striking miners severely disrupted operations at gold and coal mines, with as much as 85% of the labor force staying away from work, the companies clearly won the showdown with the union. The strike, the country’s most widespread under new labor laws, was closely watched by both management and unions in other industries as a test of the power of black unionism.

Manoko Nchwe, a labor spokeswoman, accused the three companies of trying not only to break the strike but also the union, which says it represents 240,000 members among South Africa’s 550,000 black miners. Mine security forces took tough action against union activists, arresting more than 120 miners on charges of intimidation since Sunday.

“Our members have been faced with dogs, baton charges, rubber bullets and tear gas,” she said. “Some have even been driven to work at gunpoint. At some mines, their food and water have been cut off. There have been mass firings and preparations to ship them home by the thousands.”

What broke the strike, however, was the move by Gold Fields of South Africa Ltd. to dismiss 5,000 miners at its Deelkraal Gold Mine near Carletonville, 70 miles west of Johannesburg. General Mining Union Corp. Ltd. was expected today to fire most of the 1,200 miners at its Marievale Gold Mine, 35 miles southeast of here.

At the strike’s peak, the union said, 28,000 miners had stopped working, but a company spokesman said the total was only about 15,000. Management officials said only two gold mines remained struck Tuesday.

The union did succeed in dividing the mining companies for the first time and winning larger raises than management first wanted to pay as a result. But it found itself maneuvered into striking at mines where it was weakest and against companies that had taken the hardest line in negotiations.

A black miner, on the average, is paid $157 a month, plus food and housing on the mine site, compared to an average $900 a month paid white miners, according to union figures. In announcing the suspension of the strike, the union said it will seek a court injunction to stop management from sending dismissed miners back to impoverished black homelands, adding that the Marievale pit had already sent 300 miners home.

Financial Discussions

In New York, meanwhile, the chief of South Africa’s central bank, Gerhard de Kock, conferred Tuesday with the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the most important in the U.S. system, explaining the decision to suspend payment on South Africa’s foreign-loan principal for four months.

De Kock’s talks with E. Gerald Corrigan were the latest in a series of visits with key American officials to discuss Pretoria’s extraordinary financial steps, designed to prevent the withdrawal of large sums from South African banks, thereby further driving down the value of an already battered South African rand.

De Kock had conferred Saturday in Washington with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker. That meeting, disclosed Tuesday by the Federal Reserve Board, was a “general discussion” in which the South African talked about his country’s financial intentions, a Volcker spokesman said.

In a CBS television interview Tuesday, South African Finance Minister Barend du Plessis said Volcker was told that “we will have to have a standstill until the end of the year and that we shall, in this interim period, negotiate a program for . . . repayment.”

He added, “It’s very important to note that South Africa can repay its loans if normality as far as the (financial) withdrawals prevails. This is a very extraordinary set of circumstances.”

U.S. officials are watchful but not especially worried by the possible financial problems for American banks dealing with South Africa.

“This is not an underdeveloped country and there is not a large amount of money at risk,” said one official, who asked not to be identified. The official noted that other nations such as Mexico and Brazil have much larger foreign debts than South Africa.

Times staff writer Norman Kempster contributed to this story from Washington.