Bleak future for thousands as mine closes
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.
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