‘Our heroes CHANGED OUR LIVES’
While the quality of life of Marikana mine workers has improved, looming job cuts could leave many thousands destitute
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.
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