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Squalor in SA’s platinum treasure chest

By Peroshni Govender

Marikana - Children play and dogs and chickens forage near sewage spilling from pit latrines in the shadow of Lonmin's Marikana mine in South Africa which extracts the platinum used to make jewellery and auto parts.

Ramshackle settlements cluster around this mine operated by the world no. 3 platinum producer and around others in the North West Province, the world's prime platinum mining region.

“This is no way to live or grow children. Fifty people share one toilet. We don't have water,” said a woman who identified herself as Pinky, the wife of a striking rock drill operator at Marikana who shares a one-room tin box with her husband and two children.

The mine and its squalid settlement was the scene of labour violence last week which killed 40 miners, two police and two security guards, the deadliest security incident in South Africa since the end of white minority rule 18 years ago.

A report this week by the Bench Marks Foundation, a church-linked organisation that monitors corporate responsibility, found that living conditions for South Africa's black miners on the platinum belt were the worst in the country.

“The conditions in the township constructed by Lonmin are appalling. There are broken down drainage systems spilling directly into the river at three different points,” Bench Marks Foundation executive director John Capel said, adding this situation had been left unattended for the last five years.

It was not supposed to be this way.

South Africa's former liberation movement and now ruling African National Congress was born out of South Africa's fight against apartheid, which also included rejection of the exploitation of poor black miners toiling in the country's fabled gold reefs and other mineral deposits.

Nelson Mandela's ANC promised a better life for all when it took power with the end of apartheid in 1994.

But despite Africa's largest economy devoting billions of dollars to infrastructure, housing, healthcare and education, income disparity and unemployment have mushroomed while chronic joblessness has helped entrench a massive underclass. - Reuters

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