Re­trenched gold min­ers caught in

Pan African Re­sources closes Evan­der Gold Mine, leav­ing its for­mer work­force out on a limb

Mail & Guardian - - News - Amélie Soirant & Sarah Smit

Bandile Siyoko* bought him­self a car in 2017, a sec­ond-hand Golf 4 GTI in mint con­di­tion. It is now back home in Mthatha in the East­ern Cape, where his sis­ter looks af­ter it.

When Siyoko, whose sinewy fore­arms hide a de­cep­tive strength con­tained in his slight frame, heard that he and 1710 oth­ers were be­ing re­trenched from Evan­der Gold Mine in Fe­bru­ary, he de­cided to part ways with the car, fear­ing that des­per­a­tion would drive him to sell it.

The 35-year-old be­gan work at the ill-fated Evan­der Gold Mine in Mpumalanga three years ago, af­ter his fa­ther had to leave his job at the same mine when he be­came too ill to work un­der­ground. Siyoko doesn’t know ex­actly what was wrong with his fa­ther and sim­ply mo­tions to his chest to in­di­cate the site of the ill­ness.

The mine, owned by Pan African Re­sources, pro­posed that he take his fa­ther’s place, Siyoko says. But, he adds, he was of­fered lower pay and fewer ben­e­fits than his fa­ther, de­spite the older man hav­ing worked at the mine for as long as his son can re­mem­ber.

The scar that runs from the bot­tom cor­ner of Siyoko’s right lip to un­der his chin hardly moves when he talks about this fairly com­mon­place prac­tice, a relic of the South African min­ing in­dus­try’s colo­nial his­tory.

Pan African Re­sources chief ex­ec­u­tive Cobus Loots told the Mail & Guardian that the com­pany had no choice but to re­trench the work­ers. Af­ter re­view­ing the un­der­ground op­er­a­tion of the Evan­der 8 shaft, the com­pany said in a state­ment: “There is no re­al­is­tic prospect of min­ing on a sus­tain­able and prof­itable ba­sis in the cur­rent weak rand gold price en­vi­ron­ment.”

The shaft where Siyoko worked was put un­der care and main­te­nance at the end of May; 1710 em­ploy­ees lost their jobs.

De­spite some tough months in 2017, the com­pany was still mak­ing a profit, ac­cord­ing to its unau­dited in­terim re­sults for the sec­ond half of that year.

Data from Sta­tis­tics South Africa shows that 50000 peo­ple lost their jobs in the min­ing in­dus­try just be­tween the first quar­ter of 2017 and the be­gin­ning of 2018. Over the past 20 years, the gold min­ing in­dus­try has shed more than 261 000 jobs.

The av­er­age en­try-level miner, ac­cord­ing to re­search from the Min­er­als Coun­cil South Africa, has five to 10 de­pen­dents. This means that about 4.5-mil­lion peo­ple de­pend on the shrink­ing in­dus­try.

“The whole com­mu­nity re­lies on the mines … Re­ally, peo­ple and their fam­i­lies are just dev­as­tated,” said com­mu­nity leader Thabiso Mo­fo­keng of the mass re­trench­ments that have been im­ple­mented at Evan­der.

Siyoko has two daugh­ters, aged eight and four years old. They live with their ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents and Siyoko’s sis­ters in the East­ern Cape; he sends R3 000 each month.

A few me­tres from him, his col­league Sylvia Macu* is lean­ing on the ter­race rail­ing out­side the lo­cal KFC. She tightly holds an en­ve­lope that con­tains the two cer­tifi­cates the mine gave her when she was re­trenched.

Macu worked at the mine for a year. The 36-year-old has to make a liv­ing to sup­port her four chil­dren, and her hus­band’s seven other chil­dren. In to­tal, she sup­ports 14 de­pen­dents split be­tween Em­balenhle town­ship in Mpumalanga, where she lives, and the East­ern Cape.

The town­ship, like most of Evan­der, is teem­ing with mostly men milling about in faded over­alls marked with the lo­gos of the sur­round­ing mines. A school bus, em­bla­zoned with the fa­mil­iar Sa­sol em­blem, strug­gles through the town­ship’s nar­row streets. The com­pany owns five coal mines in the area. To get from the city cen­tre to Em­balenhle, it is best to cut through to the mine on a road lined with tri­umphant-look­ing palm trees. To­wards the road’s end is a de­serted spaza shop, the let­ters of its name “Amandla” crum­bling at the edges.

In May, Pan African Re­sources an­nounced it was “re­view­ing the mer­its of min­ing the Evan­der 8 shaft pil­lar [an area of rock left un­touched around the shaft to en­sure its in­tegrity], which may ex­tend the fi­nal clo­sure date of the shaft, and as­sist with fur­ther em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties”.

De­spite the promise of the re­view, the com­pany went ahead with the re­trench­ment process — re­solv­ing to keep only 100 main­te­nance work­ers.

Af­ter be­ing handed their exit pa­pers, re­trenched work­ers were given the op­por­tu­nity to sign up to work un­der a labour-broking com­pany tasked with min­ing the Evan­der 8 shaft pil­lar. The name of this com­pany can­not be ver­i­fied.

In the last week of May, hawk­ers were sell­ing veg­eta­bles in the area out­side the mine as a throng of work­ers hung around wait­ing for their exit pa­pers.

One mineworker who spoke to the M&G on con­di­tion of anonymity — as he leaned against the wall of the hu­man re­sources of­fice — said that he is scep­ti­cal about po­ten­tially work­ing un­der the labour bro­ker, but is calmed by the prospect of still hav­ing a job. Loots told the M&G it is likely that a labour bro­ker would only be brought in af­ter at least six months. “If we can bring in a con­trac­tor, 300 to 400 peo­ple will work for two or three years … But we don’t know yet.”

One month later, on a sunny Highveld win­ter’s day, only one hawker re­mains. A white bus trans­port­ing a hand­ful of hel­meted pas­sen­gers passes the en­trance of the mine and stops in front of her stall.

No se­cu­rity guard stands in front of the rusted re­volv­ing doors. But there are still work­ers go­ing in and out. Some of them are con­trac­tors work­ing un­der­ground in 12-hour shifts. A for­mer per­ma­nent em­ployee re­fuses to say how much he is paid, but con­firms that his salary and work­ing con­di­tions have changed.

The le­gal­ity of re­plac­ing a per­ma­nent work­force with labour-bro­ker work­ers af­ter em­bark­ing on a re­trench­ment process is contested.

Re­trench­ments must be based on the em­ploy­ees’ con­duct or ca­pac­ity or on the em­ployer’s “op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments”. Ac­cord­ing to the Labour Re­la­tions Act, “op­er­a­tional

Un­cer­tain fu­ture: Work­ers wait out­side the Evan­der Gold Mine near Se­cunda, Mpumalanga, where miore than 1 700 work­ers were re­trenched in May. Bandile Siyoko (be­low) took his fa­ther’s place work­ing at the mine when his fa­ther be­came too ill to work. Siyoko was one of the work­ers re­trenched, but does not want re­turn to work at the mine un­der a labour bro­ker be­cause the pay is lower and the hours longer. Pho­tos: Oupa Nkosi

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.