South Africa’s Firebrand Mine Unionist Is Headed for a Showdown – by Paul Burkhardt and Felix Njini (Bloomberg News – April 29, 2019)

One of the most polarizing figures in South African mining, union leader Joseph Mathunjwa, has never hesitated to go head-to-head with powerful CEOs. Now he may have to face down the government.

Mathunjwa’s Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has upended labor relations in the local mining sector, leading long and crippling strikes as it seized members from a politically connected rival. A relative upstart, the militant union became a household name after a 2012 dispute at Lonmin Plc that culminated in police massacring 34 people at a protest.

AMCU may now face its biggest test yet, after a government official threatened to deregister the union for failing to hold a regular congress and leadership polls. Mathunjwa has promised to fight the move, which could sharply curb the group’s finances and influence, and insisted it is compliant with regulations.

If a weakened AMCU resulted in fewer prolonged strikes at South African mines, it would be welcome news for producers already struggling with high costs and aging mines. The union was on the back foot even before the deregistration news, after calling off a five-month strike at Sibanye Gold Ltd.’s gold mines with little to show for it.

For now, though, a dispute with the Labor Department will probably mean more operational disruptions if AMCU members protest against the move to deregister the union. It also ratchets up uncertainty just as the world’s biggest platinum producers are getting ready to negotiate new wage agreements with local labor groups.

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