Johannesburg - Thousands of people were due to gather across the country today to celebrate Workers’ Day, with one notable exception – the miners of the North West platinum belt.
They’re desperate, angry and broke. They’ve got nothing to celebrate, but they’ve vowed they won’t be breaking their strike.
ON Wednesday, The Star heard their tales of dire straits. Others are angry because they were retrenched, and couldn’t work in the area because there aren’t any jobs.
At the Bapo Ba Mogale tribal offices in Bapong near Brits on Wednesday, Peter Kgopane, 52, stood against some razor wire, listening intently, as council officials explained the job prospects around the settlement.
Most of the promises are for odd jobs, piece jobs that involve tidying up graveyards, school playgrounds and clinics. Very little was said about job prospects on the mines.
Kgopane lost his job at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in October 2012 following the strike that led to 34 miners being massacred by police.
“After the strike, I went back to work like other workers. We were told there were no longer jobs. We were told to reapply, and the lucky ones were taken back, but not me,” said Kgopane, a married father-of-three and sole breadwinner.
He had been employed as a winch operator only a year before he was retrenched.
“I felt hurt because I have small kids to take care of,” said Kgopane as he trudged home.
Driving into Nkaneng informal settlement next to Lonmin’s Marikana mine, cattle, goats and sheep graze along the dry patches of veld between the mine headgear and the recovery plant – like a scene from the old apartheid homelands in the 1980s. Pigs and stray dogs scavenge for scraps in mounds of litter.
In one of the tiny yards in this corrugated iron shantytown sat Ernest Lekgalu, 43, and Thobezweni Mbabane, 42 – both lost in deep thought. on Wednesday would have been payday for the miners.
“I am thinking about home, but I don’t have money to go or to phone. My wife and kids phone me, but I can’t even phone them because I don’t have money. It’s too bad,” said Mbabane, from Bizana in the Eastern Cape.
Lekgalu is from Bloemfontein and he has worked at Lonmin since 1995 as a winch operator.
He said: “My wife phoned me yesterday. She told me the children don’t have food. I told her that nothing goes right here. I said ‘I don’t have a plan’. I felt very hurt, but there is nothing I can do.”
He said that while he supported the R12 500 wage demand, he wanted the protracted strike to end.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has been on strike in the platinum sector for three months, over the same demand of a R12 500 basic wage that culminated in the massacre almost two years ago.
The strike entered its 14th week on Monday after talks between Amcu and Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum collapsed last Thursday, sparking new anger among the miners.
Some mineworkers have returned home to the rural areas, but many remain stuck in limbo around their workplaces.
Joel Mbanyaro, 35, from Ngcobo near Mthatha, is resolute. “Mandela stayed in prison for 27 years fighting for freedom. We will continue striking till we get the money.” - The Star