Protesting miners stop South African president’s speech

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RUSTENBURG, South Africa — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa abandoned his Workers’ Day speech in the northwestern town of Rustenburg on Sunday when striking miners stormed the stage.

Workers employed by the Sibanye-Stillwater mine are demanding a pay rise of 1,000 rand ($63) per month instead of the 850 rand ($54) offered by the mine.

Ramaphosa had decided to mark Workers’ Day, a public holiday in South Africa to mark May Day, by delivering a speech to union members in Rustenburg, a mining centre.

Ramaphosa was booed as he began his speech by calling on the strikers and other members of the South African Trades Union Congress to calm down and listen to what he had to say.

“We heard you want your 1,000 rand. We will deal with this issue,” Ramaphosa told the protesting workers.

Shortly after, Ramaphosa was forced to give up his speech altogether when angry miners stormed the pitch and overwhelmed the police surrounding the stage at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium. Ramaphosa security guards took him away from the place.

Strikers have become even more angry in recent days following reports that Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman has earned more than 300 million rand ($19 million) in 2021 in salary payments and in company shares.

Rustenburg in the North West Province is a tumultuous region for Ramaphosa and South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party. Many union members continue to blame them for the Marikana massacre, where 34 miners were shot dead by police during a strike at the Lonmin mine in 2012, when Ramaphosa was non-executive director of Lonmin.

Sunday’s tumultuous scene indicates the challenges Ramaphosa will face later this year in his bid to be re-elected as leader of the ANC, as the unions are a key constituency in the party.

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