Bleak fu­ture for thou­sands as mine closes

CityPress - - Business - LE­SETJA MALOPE le­setja.malope@city­press.co.za

The min­ing com­mu­nity in the vicin­ity of Kopanang gold mine is a so­ci­ety on edge.

An­other mine shut­down is im­mi­nent and many thou­sands will join the un­em­ploy­ment queue.

Mongezi (not his real name) has been work­ing at Kopanang gold mine, near the Vaal River on Mat­losana mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s bor­der with the Free State, for 28 years. He has 10 chil­dren back home in the Eastern Cape.

When he re­turned from leave last week he was met with news that he was one of the 4 000 em­ploy­ees who would be laid off when the mine closes shop.

He was told he would be unem­ployed within 60 days.

As a 55-year-old bread­win­ner, whose only work ex­pe­ri­ence is ex­tract­ing gold from the belly of the earth, he is not hope­ful of find­ing an­other job.

“I am too old. They want younger men. For me there is no hope. I will go home and wait for the prov­i­dent [fund to pay out], and maybe if they don’t rob me with de­duc­tions, I will buy a house, but the money will fin­ished,” said the soft-spo­ken mine worker as he basked in the sun­shine on a chilly morn­ing near one of Kopanang mine’s male hos­tel units.

Though he es­ti­mates that he will get al­most half a mil­lion rand in prov­i­dent fund money, he also es­ti­mates that about half of that will be de­ducted ei­ther as tax or some other de­duc­tion “the peo­ple in the of­fices will come up with”.

Mongezi, how­ever, re­gards him­self as slightly bet­ter off than other af­fected work­ers.

He tells of col­leagues, also from the Eastern Cape, who have re­lo­cated their en­tire fam­i­lies to an in­for­mal set­tle­ment near the mine.

“They won’t have money to re­turn [to the Eastern Cape] be­cause if they go back all the money will be fin­ished when they get home and they will have noth­ing to eat un­til their prov­i­dent money comes,” he said.

He said most would prob­a­bly opt to stay un­til the prov­i­dent fund pays out and would likely buy prop­erty in one of the nearby town­ships.

Ac­cord­ing to Mongezi, some of the work­ers were told the mine had been sold but that the al­most 4 000 work­ers will still lose their jobs.

He said the new own­ers might be Chi­nese and added, sur­pris­ingly, that he would rather cash in his money and head home than work for them.

Rivers Teko, in his thir­ties, is a bar­ber who does busi­ness un­der a tree a stone’s throw away from the mine’s main gate.

He first joined the mine in 2003 re­pair­ing lights but was fired in 2009 be­cause of a “mis­take”.

He has since es­tab­lished a rep­u­ta­tion for him­self with the mine’s work­ers as one of the best bar­bers in the area.

He heard through his clients that the mine will be shut­ting down and knows that that also means no job for him as all his cus­tomers are mine work­ers.

Av­er­ag­ing a turnover of R200 a day cut­ting peo­ple’s hair, Teko, who lives near Klerks­dorp, trav­els to the mine and uses a por­tion of the money for trans­port.

A very en­thu­si­as­tic bar­ber, Teko says he is orig­i­nally from Lim­popo.

It’s not un­usual in this com­mu­nity where the ma­jor­ity of the mine work­ers are mi­grant work­ers who hail from all over the coun­try and neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.

With the mine’s shut­down well in sight, Teko is not pan­ick­ing just yet and is still op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture.

“I have been cut­ting hair ever since I was 13 years old. Some­thing will come up,” he said.

PHOTO: LE­SETJA MALOPE

Rivers Teko, a for­mer Kopanang mine em­ployee who is now a bar­ber, de­pends on the mine work­ers for a liv­ing. He is one of thou­sands of peo­ple who will be af­fected by the mine’s shut­down

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