COSATU Free State observes the Jagersfontein strike and Coalbrook mine disaster

As the month of January draws to a close, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in the Free State pays tribute to mineworkers who participated in the Jagersfontein strike on the 9th of January 1914, as well as the workers who lost their lives in the Coalbrook mine disaster which took place on 21 January 1960.

On the morning of the 9th of January 1914, hundreds of mineworkers who were employed at the Jagersfontein Diamond Mine refused to go underground in protest of their living and working conditions. The turn of events became very ironic in that this demonstration occurred in the midst of a general strike called by white workers across the mines, in an attempt to promote their interests in a changing South Africa. During their strike action, white workers were armed with shotguns, rifles and revolvers. In the process, sixteen African workers lost their lives!

The brutality unleashed against innocent, suffering and unarmed African workers whilst pursuing their right to have acceptable working and living conditions was justified by the system at the time and it remained underreported in the mainstream media, according to the University of Witwatersrand’s History Workshop published in 9-14 February 1987.

In pursuit of increased production at the Coalbrook mine, disaster struck on the 21st of January 1960 when methane gas suffocated 437 mineworkers who were subsequently crushed by the falling rocks at approximately 152 metres underground. The search and rescue operations were called off by the then Prime Minister when he addressed parliament on the 5th of February 1960. It is said that when the early warning signals were identified by the workers on the very same day, many workers rushed to the surface only to be coerced back to the belly of the earth with a threat of being arrested. It is shocking that even the two workers who refused to go underground remained in the holding cells of the mine for desertion days beyond the disaster!  It was a major struggle to compel the mine to publish the names of the deceased and it became clear that there was no record of proper names. For many workers who hailed from neighbouring countries, only their first names were published!

According to the Sunday Independent of the 8th March 2020, after much pressure from the civil society groups when the inquiry finally took place, Africans were not allowed in the venue despite the fact that 429 of the 437 deceased were Africans.

COSATU Free State holds a moment of silence in commemoration of the two tragic events which shaped the declining mining industry in its early days. We are thus inspired and encouraged to keep the memories alive in our hearts and minds with the hope that we will take lessons and draw strength from these and other events which shaped the industry.

The struggle continues!

Issued by COSATU Free State

Monyatso oa Mahlatsi(Provincial Secretary)
051 447 5499 or 076 115 9923