Johannesburg - About three weeks ago, Wonderkop resident and elder Evelyn Mmekwa came across a woman lying in the street after falling, helpless and drowsy.
When she helped her up and asked what the problem was, the woman told Mmekwa she was not feeling well as she had taken medication for an illness and was extremely hungry.
After taking her to her home and preparing a plate of food for her, it dawned on Mmekwa that the woman was one among the many mineworkers and their families who were taking strain from the protracted strike in the platinum belt.
Workers at mining firms including Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum have been on strike since January, demanding a R12 500 basic salary.
Mmekwa’s home has become a sanctuary for many who are struggling to get by, providing a daily ration of soft porridge in the morning and pap and vegetables at lunchtime.
Such is the strife and humanitarian crisis that is unfolding as a result of the four-month strike that ordinary people cannot turn a blind eye to the issue.
Some of the miners who tried to return to work this week reportedly failed their medical examinations due to malnourishment.
The mining firms have yet to confirm this.
“The strike is bad and people are literally hungry. We feed men, women and children, and you can see the pain in their eyes when they are told there is no more food and that they should return for the next round,” said Mmekwa.
“I’m using my husband’s pension payout to fund the feeding scheme, we cannot simply stand by and watch the crisis in this community, but we need to buy more food and create a healthy variety.”
But the strike is also making an impact on the economy of Rustenburg and businesses that operate around Marikana, including the loan sharks and banks.
Many unregistered loan sharks were wiped out in Marikana after raids by police and Sars following the August 2012 massacre when 34 miners were shot down by police.
A consultant at a bank stationed in the small town near Marikana where major stores are situated, who preferred not to be named because of the violent environment around the area, said many mineworkers had started flocking into the bank with loan applications as far back as February when it became clear that most would not receive any pay for the month.
“Most of them could not be approved because they have already been blacklisted.
“Others already have loans with us, and they wanted to borrow more money. Unfortunately most were rejected, and we are still getting more applications that are likely to be rejected,” she said.
With the prolonged strike, there was a possibility some of them would lose their jobs when the strike ended, a reality that banks and lenders were considering.
“Business is slow but we are still operating because some of our clients live in Marikana but they don’t work for the mines. They work in town (Rustenburg) in clothing shops, while some work at the mines but are employed as security guards, cleaners and other jobs,” she said.
An unlikely source of income for many miners has been their families back home, mostly in the Eastern Cape and the Free State, who are sending money.
The queues at the local Shoprite U Save stores’ MoneyMarket section are usually long on Friday afternoons as many need money to get through the weekend.
While it appeared to be business as usual for many stores in the small town, some Chinese shops have been closed since March.
The shortage of money and the increasing strife in Nkaneng township, Marikana and Wonderkop, all areas surrounding Lonmin shafts, have, however, not deterred the mineworkers from continuing with the strike.
Many said that SMSes sent by Lonmin directly to employees encouraging them to return to work had only strengthened their resolve.
“We will not fall for their tricks to divide us. It is obviously hard to go so long without getting paid but what we are fighting for is worth the sacrifice,” said surface worker at Lonmin and Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) member Kaizer Madiba.
Another mineworker, Erasmus Legodi, disputed allegations that some mineworkers were being intimidated from going to work, saying Amcu had never told anybody who did not agree with the strike to stay away from work.
He emphasised his support for the strike and for Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa.
“The workers trust him because he always gives feedback and never enters into agreements that we know nothing about.”
Platinum strike in numbers
Companies involved in the platinum wage negotiations:
Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum, African Rainbow Minerals, Aquarius Platinum, Royal Bafokeng Platinum and Northam Platinum.
If Amcu accepts the across-the-board increase between 7.5 and 9.5 percent, which will eventually meet the workers’ R12 521 demand by July 2017, the minimum wage will change as follows:
The platinum bosses’ salaries for 2013 were: