Johannesburg - A month-long wage strike at platinum mines in Rustenburg, North West, is now affecting small businesses and families.
Mineworker Itumeleng Phiri says he will find it difficult to go another month without a salary.
“I cannot provide for my family. Children struggle to go to school because they do not have transport money. I cannot rely on credits anymore, because once I go back to work my money will go to creditors. Where does this leave (me)?” he asks.
“The R12,500 is good money. No one in a good mind could refuse it. We want it, but if that could not be achieved now are we going to be on strike for ever?”
Situated at the foot of the Magaliesberg mountain range, Rustenburg is home to platinum mines belonging to three companies - Lonmin Platinum, Impala Platinum (Implats), and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats).
“It is difficult. Mineworkers can no longer afford to pay rent. I cannot chase them away. They do not have money and this affects us all,” says Mirriam Modise, a hawker who doubles as a landlord leasing rooms to mineworkers in Thekwana.
Since the strike started in January, her business no longer makes a profit, she says.
Members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) downed tools on January 23, pushing for a minimum entry level pay of R12,500 a month.
This minimum pay demand originated at Lonmin's Marikana
operations in 2012, when workers abandoned the then majority union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and went on a wildcat strike demanding R12,500.
Forty-four people died during the violent strike.
Thirty-four people, mostly mineworkers, were killed when police fired on them on August 16, 2012. Ten other people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed in the preceding week.
Amcu emerged the dominant union in the platinum belt after the Lonmin strike.
“It is difficult, business is slow. People in the mines are on strike and that affects us,” says hairdresser Anton Ngama.
“Today, no customer came to my salon. The future is bleak. I sit here the whole day without clients.”
His salon is at the side of a road in the Siza informal settlement. The settlement is a stone's throw from Amplats's Thembelani shaft.
“I used to attend to 20 clients every day. Now I will be lucky to see one coming in. I run a business, if I am not making a profit I will be forced to close down.”
The newly-launched Workers' Association Union (WAU) says the strike must end.
“We are not going to sit back when our members are condemned to poverty through an indefinite strike. We cannot look on when the economy of the town and the country is taken down,” says WAU secretary Eliphas Ngoepe.
“Workers will lose their property because they are unable to pay their instalments. You cannot be on strike for ever.”
The union plans to meet mining companies to pave the way to end the strike.
Platinum mining in Rustenburg began in 1929, shortly after the discovery of a platinum reef by Hans Merensky. It was later named the Merensky Reef. - Sapa