‘Our he­roes CHANGED OUR LIVES’

While the qual­ity of life of Marikana mine work­ers has im­proved, loom­ing job cuts could leave many thou­sands des­ti­tute

CityPress - - Front Page - POLOKO TAU poloko.tau@city­press.co.za

The cat­tle kraal on the edges of Nka­neng in­for­mal set­tle­ment in Marikana, in front of which 16 strik­ing min­ers were gunned down by po­lice on Au­gust 16 2012, has been ex­tended to cover part of the fiveyear-old crime scene. By this day, Au­gust 13 in 2012, nine men – in­clud­ing two po­lice of­fi­cers, two Lon­min se­cu­rity guards and a mine worker who was not on strike – had al­ready been killed.

Three days later, 34 min­ers were gunned down – 16 at the mas­sacre site and 18 later at Scene 2 where po­lice shot them in cold blood, mostly in the back. By the end of the vi­o­lent wild­cat strike, 44 peo­ple had died.

To many, the kop­pie where more than 3 000 strik­ing mine work­ers wield­ing sharp weapons gath­ered dur­ing the strike re­mains the place to hon­our them – the place where they died lies 100m away.

On Fri­day morn­ing, it was clear that, un­less one asks around, the spot where they were killed re­mains un­no­tice­able.

As mine work­ers gath­ered on Fri­day to com­mem­o­rate the deaths of their col­leagues, lit­tle was said about those al­legedly killed by the strik­ers in the days be­fore the mas­sacre.

Asked if their he­roes’ deaths had been in vain, the mine work­ers were adamant – they were not.

In 2012, gen­eral work­ers at Lon­min re­port­edly took home “less than R3 500” per month and rock drillers who per­formed min­ing’s tough­est task were still far from earn­ing a monthly salary of R8 000.

“It has all changed now. Ac­tu­ally, you don’t get any­one earn­ing less than R10 000 per month th­ese days and some work­ers have sur­passed the R12 500 they were fight­ing for,” said As­so­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers and Con­struc­tion Union (Amcu) leader Joseph Mathun­jwa.

Amcu un­seated the ANC-aligned Na­tional Union of Minework­ers to be­come the ma­jor­ity union on Rusten­burg’s platinum belt af­ter the tragedy five years ago.

“Salaries are still low ... but the whole strug­gle was about col­laps­ing the old foun­da­tion and build­ing a new one, and today no worker en­ters Lon­min earn­ing less than R10 000 as a ba­sic salary, from R3 800 to R4 000 [five years ago],” he said.

“That is a great achieve­ment; it comes at a price, but mov­ing for­ward, we won’t have any worker earn­ing less than R10 000 [per month].”

Sev­eral Lon­min work­ers from Marikana, who asked not to be named, agreed with Mathun­jwa.

“Life is much, much bet­ter now in that we can af­ford many things, like brand-new cars, un­like be­fore. It’s sad that our col­leagues had to die for us to en­joy all this, but hon­estly, a lot has im­proved since our broth­ers were killed,” said a mine worker from Row­lands Shaft in Marikana.

An­other worker, from K3 shaft, said: “My cousin was among those who died, but his death was not in vain. I earn bet­ter today and we owe it all to their de­parted spir­its.”

Molefi Phele, among the strike lead­ers in 2012, said it was un­for­tu­nate that just as salaries, liv­ing and work­ing con­di­tions were im­prov­ing, they were now faced with an­other “de­mon” – job cuts in the min­ing in­dus­try.

“A lot has im­proved ... I mean, you go to many shafts today and they are forced to ex­tend park­ing ar­eas be­cause many work­ers can af­ford cars today – thanks to the Au­gust 2012 strike ac­tion that un­for­tu­nately cost many lives. We were get­ting there, but now, ev­ery time we raise is­sues, we’re told, ‘The more you de­mand, the more peo­ple will lose jobs so we can de­liver on your de­mands,’” Phele said.

“The min­ing in­dus­try is cruel. They have over all th­ese years got used to mak­ing prof­its and pay­ing work­ers peanuts. Now that they see they have to pay more, they’d rather shed thou­sands of jobs.” Mathun­jwa said Amcu was plan­ning a march to the Union Build­ings against “jobs blood­shed” in the min­ing in­dus­try amid plans to lay off about 20 000 work­ers.

Mean­while, for those liv­ing in Nka­neng in­for­mal set­tle­ment in Marikana, where many of the slain mine work­ers lived, not much has changed ex­pect for a few wa­ter points. Most mine work­ers said they moved out of mine res­i­dences into shacks there so that they can aug­ment their salaries with the “sleep-out” al­lowance, but their liv­ing con­di­tions were un­bear­able.

From garbage scat­tered in the set­tle­ment’s out­skirts to wires from il­le­gal elec­tri­cal con­nec­tions run­ning all over the place, and an ever-in­creas­ing crime rate, it is still a long way to go for Nka­neng.

“We have tried in vain to get Lon­min to re­zone this area and for­malise it as a town­ship so that peo­ple there can get proper ser­vice de­liv­ery, but we haven’t got any­where. Life is still mis­er­able there, but the strug­gle in gen­eral con­tin­ues,” Mathun­jwa said.

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

HEATED AT­MOS­PHERE Strike leader Mgci­neni Noki, also known as The Man in the Green Blan­ket, ral­lies mine work­ers at Marikana ahead of their en­counter with po­lice that left 34 mine work­ers shot dead

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