Through the relationships that Khulumani built with families affected by the Marikana Massacre, we became the research partner for a study by TIPS (Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies) as to the conditions prevailing both in communities surrounding mines on the platinum belt and in labour-sending communities.
The Farlam Commission into the “Marikana Massacre” of August 2012 put the issue of the conditions affecting migrant workers back on the national agenda, given that the industry has seen almost no change from the conditions that prevailed under apartheid. Many families from rural communities in South Africa and in surrounding countries have seen generation of generation of their able-bodied young men leave to spend their working lives as migrant mine workers.
New generations of mine workers expressed their realities when they said in focus groups that, “Yes, we are the youth of this democracy. But we came here to find these same conditions where our forefathers, our fathers, were working, it has not changed: the same dust, the same air, polluted air, the tools and everything, the same that have killed our fathers. That is why we are saying, we have to talk, we need changes.”
Conditions in the workplace are physically harsh and damage mine workers’ health. Pay is inadequate given the demands and risks involved and employment practices entrench short term contracts without adequate security, career development paths or access to opportunities for promotion. Discrimination is prevalent in relation to race, ethnicity and gender. Living conditions are largely dismal in communities surrounding mines. Communities continue to suffer removals when mining licences are granted and many of the issues related to being displaced, remain unresolved while their land and water sources are polluted. Mines have failed to provide decent housing for workers who choose to access the living-out allowance to enable them to live with their families. The shack settlements that become all that these workers can afford are left unserviced in terms of access to water and sanitation and other pubic services.
In the labour-sending areas families live often below subsistence level, on whatever the breadwinner is able to send home and these incomes end when the breadwinner is injured or acquires a lung disease from dust exposure underground.
Many families are left without access to the pensions, disability and death benefits to which they were entitled and the cycle of poverty becomes perpetuated.
It is time for change in these situations that remain trapped in the practices of exploitation from apartheid and beyond. This publication highlights the solutions that mine workers and their families themselves propose.
It is time that life changed for the better for those whose labour has produced the largest component of our country’s GDP for many years.