South African police attack and arrest striking workers at Ekapa diamond mines 

Hundreds of NUMSA members began a strike at the Ekapa diamond mines on August 7. On August 10, police forces arrested 43 striking workers after attacking the picket line with water cannons and tear gas

August 11, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
NUMSA Ekapa mine strike South Africa
NUMSA members on strike at the Ekapa diamond mines in the Northern Cape province. (Photo: NUMSA)

Almost 700 workers employed at the Ekapa diamond mines in South Africa’s Northern Cape province began an indefinite strike on August 7. Organized by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), workers have downed their tools in rejection of the “starvation wage” they are currently being paid. 

On Thursday, August 10, as workers were picketing outside the mines, formerly owned by the De Beers mining company, the police deployed water cannons and fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse them. Police then proceeded to arrest 43 workers, NUMSA regional organizer Tshepo Mokhele, who was present at the picket, told Peoples Dispatch. The workers were granted bail on August 11. 

NUMSA issued a 48-hour strike notice to Ekapa on August 4, following which the company threatened to lock out workers if they went ahead with the action, the union said in a statement on August 7. The striking workers, which include permanent, contractual, and trainee workers, represent over half of the 1,200 workers employed at the mine. 

Among the key demands being raised by the workers is a 17% wage increase and an entry level salary of R17,500 (USD 930.2). Workers have also sought a one-off payment of ex gratia funds amounting to R10,000 (USD 530.1). 

Ekapa mine strike South Africa
Hundreds of NUMSA members working at the Ekapa diamond mines launched an indefinite strike on August 7. (Photo: NUMSA)

According to NUMSA, the current entry level salary is R5,700 (USD 302.9) per month. For context, the cost of an average household food basket for the month of July, as calculated by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity (PMBEJD) group, stood at R5,082.94 (USD 270). 

Workers have also demanded that the housing allowance be increased to R2850 (USD 151.3) and medical allowance to R2650 (USD 140.6) per month. They have asked for an agreement for one year, back-dated to March 1. 

Ekapa responded with a counter-offer of a 6.5% wage increase and a three-year agreement. Meanwhile, the company has provided a 17% wage increase solely for workers in the “C-band” category (which includes workers who are qualified to conduct blasting operations in the mines). 

“NUMSA condemns the mine management for dividing workers…Our members are earning peanuts, whilst they are also expected to risk their lives underground mining for diamonds,” NUMSA General Secretary Irvin Jim said in a statement. 

After the strike began, Jim tried to engage with the chief executive at Ekapa mines attempting find a solution but the “CEO was very arrogant and did not want to budge on any of these demands,” Mokhele said. 

“For the last five years the employers have not implemented any effective wage increase for the workers…their salaries have been stagnant. The employers have not put on the table an increase that will sustain the livelihoods of these comrades.” 

As the workers continue their picket, Ekapa has sought an interim interdiction, the court hearing for which is scheduled for September 11.