By Norm Dixon
JOHANNESBURG — "Anglo American are telling the outside world that there is no apartheid in their company, and that they are opposed to the apartheid system. That is not true. There is a lot of apartheid in this company."
Mike Modiba, a shop steward for the National Union of Mineworkers, spoke to Green Left Weekly on September 16 as the 1800 NUM members employed by Anglo American Property Services in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town began an indefinite strike.
Shoppers in downtown Johannesburg gathered around as hundreds of militant workers occupied the plush Carlton Centre Shopping Arcade in Smal Street. Anglo American Property Services employs cleaners, security guards and maintenance workers who staff buildings throughout South Africa's major cities.
As Modiba spoke, angry unionists — predominantly women — sang, toyi-toyied and shouted slogans in favour of an ANC victory at the coming elections. Earlier attempts at intimidation by dozens of baton-wielding security guards in camouflage uniforms and police with vicious attack dogs failed in the face of the workers' determination not to end their occupation until the company gave in to their demands.
Anglo American Property Services is part of the giant Anglo American Corporation, South Africa's biggest and most powerful company. Anglo American controls almost 40% of the market capitalisation on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
"We are very angry because this company is very rich and Mr Oppenheimer is very rich, but we who are working for him get almost nothing. We are starving", Modiba, hoarse from hours of chanting, told Green Left Weekly.
The workers are demanding an adequate housing subsidy, recognition of a provident fund controlled by the workers and not the company, and the withdrawal of subcontractors from a building managed by Anglo American.
While the company pays a hefty housing subsidy to whites, it pays black workers a token 10 rands a month allowance, Modiba said. "We are paying a lot of money for rent — R500 or even R800 a month — so that R10 is nothing ...
"I'm a senior security guard with eight years' experience with this company. All I get is R1450 a month. Cleaners get R1100 a month. If they employ a white security guard, he won't start at the bottom, he is immediately made our supervisor. They have less experience than me, but they are made senior because of their skin colour.
"There is no promotion for blacks, but there is promotion for whites. They've got car allowances, we don't get car allowances. They've got housing allowances, now we blacks want a housing allowance."
Modiba believes that apartheid's days are numbered. "I'm a supporter of the ANC, and we're confident that the ANC will win the April 27 election. The ANC will lead South Africa into a democratic future."
Modiba warned companies like Anglo American that their racist practices would also come to an end. "An ANC victory will give workers the courage to fight for their rights."