The Runaway Union: Notes on Marikana and the National Union of Mineworkers
I have been interested in forms of organisation in general, and unions in particular, for some time now. On a recent trip to South Africa I ended up profiling the National Union of Mineworkers for The Hindu, and was intrigued to learn that most unions in South Africa have their own investment companies run, with varying degrees of success, by professional money managers. The following piece attempts to map how one of South Africa’s most powerful unions was transformed by its encounter with high-finance. I would be interested to hear what Kafila readers think of this.
Emperors Palace casino — edifice of dreams, self-proclaimed Vegas of Africa with its 1,724 slot machines, 68 gaming tables, and giant fibreglass statues of Egyptian pharaohs — is a five-minute drive from Johannesburg airport.
In a country of desperate inequality, the casino offers one way past the seemingly impermeable barriers of race and class. Yet, Emperors Palace is a bet in itself, a wager, placed by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on behalf of its many thousand members that money pulled from gamblers’ pockets in Johannesburg will find its way past the city’s smart suburbs into the streaked overalls of men crouched at a faraway mine face thousands of feet underground.
The casino is part of a diverse portfolio, with a net asset value of just over R3 billion (Rs.1,786 crore), managed by the Mineworkers Investment Company (MIC), an investment company set up by NUM, one of South Africa’s largest and wealthiest unions.
Till recently, NUM had 320,000 members, a cash surplus of R134.4 million, and was pivotal to South Africa’s resource driven economy: mining employs half a million workers and accounts for 10 per cent of Gross Domestic Product and 38 per cent of all exports. MIC is one of the most successful investment companies in the country and disburses R45 million every year as dividends to a union-controlled trust to finance education bursaries for the children of mineworkers. NUM is also part of the national government through the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) federation. COSATU, the African National Congress (ANC), and the South African Communist Party form South Africa’s ruling alliance.
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