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 put down their tools in rejection of “starvation wages.”
On August 10, as workers were picketing outside the mines, formerly owned by the De Beers mining company, 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. 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 percent wage increase and an entry level salary of R17,500 ($930.2). Workers have also sought a one-off payment of ex gratia funds amounting to R10,000 ($530.1).
According to NUMSA, the current entry level salary is R5,700 ($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 group, stood at R5,082.94 ($270).