Mpofu, Jo Seoka, the Bishop of Pretoria and [DATA LON:Lonmin] CEO, were crucial to negotiations with Amcu leader, Joseph Mathunjwa, and to the end of a strike which severely crippled the country’s economy.
“If you cut through all those differences, the central thing was trust. The issue was that the three of us were people who were trusted immensely by the union leadership and, also, by the workers themselves,” Mpofu told CNBC Africa.
“We are referred to as the three musketeers so Ben Magara has a history with the three musketeers as it were. He himself knew the value that that would bring and he used it optimally. The bishop played a major role. Some of us can be hot-headed and he was the calming influence on all of us.”
FORMULATING THE TEAM
Mpofu also believes that the coming together of these specific individuals played a big part in the eventual end to the strike.
“It was the deputy minister of minerals who suggested, just after the elections because he knew that I have a good relationship with Mathunjwa and with the workers, [that] I assist him in introducing them to Mathunjwa because they didn’t know him,” he said.
“I then suggested that if he wanted me to be involved, we should also bring in the bishop because of the credibility that we already enjoyed with the workers and with Amcu. Thereafter the new minister was appointed and when he started his process, Mathunjwa suggested that I get involved because I suppose he doesn’t know the ANC people as much as I do.”
THE MINERALS MINISTER’S ROLE
However, despite the formulation of an inter-governmental task team and the promise of an end to the platinum strike, talks facilitated by South African Minerals Minister, Ngoako Ramatlhodi were eventually dissolved, without an outcome.
(READ MORE: S.Africa’s platinum mining talks dissolved)
Mpofu believes that the minerals minister meant well regarding an end to the strike and that he was forced to withdraw from the talks.
“The tragic part is the fact that the ANC had jitters about a solution coming through and I suspect the real reason was very sinister. They thought that should a victory come to Amcu, that would spell doom for NUM,” he said.
“We had a meeting on the Friday where we had made some progress with the minister. On the Saturday, the minister called a press conference. There was an NEC Lekgotla going on so during that he was ‘arm-twisted’ to withdraw. Once the government was out of it, we had to find solutions for ourselves.”
A COMBINATION OF EMOTION AND HISTORY
He added that South Africa is a highly politicised society and that no strike in the country could ever be purely economic.
“Their real gripe was that 20 years after liberation, they are still living in filthy hostels. There has not been a jump in wages, which was obviously set at a time when we were looked at as inferior. It was emotion, it was history, it was politics all rolled into one, and that’s why it went on for so long and why there was so much determination to see it through,” Mpofu explained.
“Sometimes we underestimate the collective intelligence of these people simply because they are not educated. Even the idea of putting together a team like myself, the bishop and Mathunjwa was their own creativity. People would say, ‘We understand that we are suffering now but let’s rather suffer now so that those who are employed in the futur, can be better rewarded’.”