Johannesburg - Thousands of people have received food-aid parcels in South Africa’s platinum belt, where a strike has crippled output at mines owned by the three biggest producers for almost 18 weeks and left many starving.
About 12,000 people have benefited from packs of corn, rice, beans and bread distributed in the Rustenburg area, where many of the nation’s platinum mines are located, said Imtiaz Sooliman, chairman of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa-based disaster relief organisation Gift of the Givers.
“People are really desperate and insecure,” Sooliman said by phone yesterday.
“They’ve lost everything. We’re seeing lots of people who are malnourished and are becoming ill. It’s absolute desperation. It’s 100 percent to do with the platinum strike.”
More than 70,000 miners who are members of the main union at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin have halted work since January 23.
Employees don’t get paid when on strike in South Africa, which produces about 70 percent of mined platinum.
The workers have forfeited 8.4 billion rand in wages, while the companies have lost 18.9 billion rand in revenue.
“The crowds were highly organised and queued for a long time with dignity and composure,” Sooliman said of the first day of the aid drive on May 19.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union wants basic monthly pay, without benefits, to reach 12,500 rand by 2017 for entry-level underground employees.
The demands would equate to a 30 percent increase in the first year of the agreement, which the companies say is unaffordable.
They’re offering raises of as much as 10 percent annually.
South African inflation was 6.1 percent in April.
The union and the three companies yesterday started mediation under the auspices of Labour Court Judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker to try end the strike.
Three days have been set aside for the process.
In Rustenburg, a city of 500,000 about 120 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, mining-related industries account for about half the jobs and 60 percent of the economy, Thapelo Matebesi, a spokesman for the local municipality, said earlier in the strike.
The Amcu last month started a fund to support families of striking members, with the organisation making 1 million rand available and office bearers contributing 50,000 rand.
That equates to about 14 rand for each miner on strike, Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara said on May 19.
Gift of the Givers has received support from the public for its work in the platinum belt, with donations and money from churches, mosques and medical organisations, Sooliman said.
“If it doesn’t stop soon, or there’s intervention, this thing could explode as frustration and anger sets in.” - Bloomberg News