THE platinum belt around Rustenburg is on a knife edge as shopkeepers, taxi operators and microlenders feel the pinch of the wage strike that has entered its sixth week.
Residents in the informal settlements near the mines have been growing increasingly desperate and the situation could disintegrate into chaos if the strike continues.
The memory of the wildcat strike in August 2012, in which 44 people were killed at Marikana, is still fresh.
Although this strike has been more peaceful, business owners say it has had a severe impact on trade.
About 70 000 Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) members started a strike on January 23 at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin to press for a R12 500 minimum wage.
Employers say the demand is unaffordable and have proposed a three-year deal with annual increases of between 9 percent and 7.5 percent.
Negotiations at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration have yet to resolve the strike.
the longer the strike, the more severe the potential long-term structural impact, and hence, the higher probability of restructuring and job losses,” Implats spokesman Johan Theron said yesterday.
The producers had lost R6.6 billion in revenue and employees had lost R2.9bn in wages while stockpiles to weather the strike were dwindling, the companies said on a joint website on Monday.
The prospects are also bleak for many residents of the Sondela informal settlement near Amplats’s Khuseleka mine, most of whom are unemployed.
There were goats roaming freely on the streets and police patrolling the area when Business Report visited last week.
The area’s Capitec and African Bank branches have closed, many hawkers have left and one shop owner has an Amcu flag hoisted outside his shop for protection.
Mine employees spend most of their days sitting under the trees and many no longer go to the picketing site to hear feedback from shop stewards. Many have chosen to live in the area to benefit from the living-out allowance.
“We are in debt with our banks. We want to strike because we go to work and our money is too little. We are not eating, we have to lend money from Somali shop owners and we have promised to pay them back,” an Implats employee who lives in the area said.
Mineworkers are sinking deeper into debt, they have not honoured their credit repayments after missing out on pay day last week and microlenders say they have been hard hit.
They are not issuing new credit to their clients who comprise 70 percent of the miners.
The cash loan owners are waiting for the strike to end and will devise new measures to collect debt.
“Clients say they cannot pay their rent, buy food, pay children’s transport fees and medical aids. We cannot help them,” said Tlhalekang Mogwere, an administration manager at Masasa Financial Services in Rustenburg.
“We have to devise a plan B to recover the money, for example making arrangements for them to extend the payment of the debt by two to three months,” Mogwere said.
Another owner of a cash loan provider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “It’s tough for everyone. If I cannot give out credit, then I am not making money and I cannot look after my staff.”
Most of the workers who had asked for credit wanted to work, and were afraid of intimidation, the lenders said.
Debt counsellors are also inundated with queries from anxious consumers who want help.
“They don’t know what will happen to them or their debt. There is a lot of uncertainty, they don’t know if the mines will take them back or how their creditors will react,” an employee at DEBThelp, a debt counsellor in Rustenburg, said.
Isaac Makae, a taxi driver in the city, said industry officials in the area had estimated that taxi operators had lost 50 percent of their business since the strike started.
“I feel sorry for the guys who are paying off their taxis, most are paying R10 000 [a month] for their vehicles. If the strike does not end, their taxis will be repossessed,” he said.
Shop owners say they cannot pay their creditors if the strike continues.
“My business is down by 60 percent since the strike, and if it continues for another month, I cannot pay my creditors this month,” said the owner of a wholesale shop.
“I am asking the bank, the bank does not want to listen,” the store owner added.