Joseph Mathunjwa was born in Amatikulu in Northern Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) on 26 May 1965. He is the son of David Mathunjwa, who was a Christian preacher. He matriculated in Ulundi, Northern Natal. Mathunjwa got his first job as laboratory attendant at Rand Coal in 1986, earning around R300 to 400 a month. Joseph Mathunjwa is a member of the Salvation Army, the Christian church known for charitable work and evangelic fervour.
He worked as the laboratory assistant at BHP Billiton’s Douglas Colliery in Mpumalanga. Mathunjwa was very popular among the workforce at BHP Billiton, where his interests in representing workers started. At BHP Billiton, he managed to convince the management to implement a bonus system for underground mine workers. He also forced management to take responsibility when a worker died, by making sure that management does not only deliver the deceased to the family, but they (management) accompany the deceased person home and explain the situation surrounding the death of the worker. BHP Billiton retrenched some workers in 2005, and Mathunjwa and other workers fought the retrenchment through the Labour Court, and they won the case. These actions of his made him popular among fellow workers.
Mathunjwa was the Chair of local branch of National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) until he was dismissed in September 1999. Mathunjwa was dismissed by NUM for bring the union into disrepute, and partly for clashing with Gwede Mantashe over the handling of funds paid by employers into the Job creation Fund. His dismissal led to the protest of 3 000 underground workers at Douglas Colliery, one of the oldest mines of Ingwe Coal, now known as BHP Billiton The protest action was not protected and it took two weeks, and at that time the mine’s underground section was occupied for 10 days. Subsequently, the dispute was terminated after Mathunjwa got reinstated. Later, Mathunjwa had to face a second hurdle in a form of disciplinary hearing by the NUM for bring the union into disrepute.
Following his dismissal, the NUM terminated his membership. He later announced to NUM that he was no longer part of NUM, and the union should appoint a new branch Chairperson. The NUM called a mass meeting to inform members that Mathunjwa was dismissed. At the meeting workers felt that what happened to Mathunjwa was not right, and 3 000 workers resigned from NUM.
The resigned workers advised him to form a new union. Mathunjwa took the advice from workers, and he established a new trade union. Mathunjwa got assistance from a local teacher, Jeffrey Mphahlele, and Archie Palane, former deputy General Secretary of NUM, to register a new union with the Department of Labour. The union was called Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). It was officially registered in 2001. The AMCU managed to recruit the majority of workers from the platinum mines in Rustenburg and Brits in the North West Province.
Mathunjwa had skilfully tapped into a swelling vein of discontent among poor, Black workers who have seen little improvement in their lives two decades after apartheid ended. Mathunjwa led the mineworkers strike in 2012, which led to the killing of 34 mineworkers by uniformed South African Police Service officials. He has built up AMCU by exploiting rank and file perceptions that NUM is too close to mine bosses. AMCU now has more than 100,000 members, most of them in the platinum mines.
He is married to Nokuthula “Thuli” Mathunjwa and they have three children.
Jan de Lange, (2012), The rise and rise of Amcu, from Miningmx, 02 August [Online], Available at www.miningmx.com [Accessed: 10 August 2014]| Joseph Mathunjwa AMCU president, [Online] Available at www.miningmx.com [Accessed: 27 August 2014]|City Press, The rise and rise of AMCU, from in City Press on line, 18 August [Online], Available at www.citypress.co.za [Accessed: 27 August 2014]|Sosibo, R., (2014), Amcu sets its sights on smaller mines: confident after its success on the platinum belt, the union wants to consolidate its gains in the Platinum industry, from Mail &Guardian, 27 June [Online] Available at https://mg.co.za [Accessed: 10 August 2014]