The mining industry has been central in shaping the South African socio-economic and political order throughout its 150-year history.
It developed the migrant and compound labour system to sustain low production costs.
Undoubtedly, mining would not have flourished without this system. Migrant labour came from both South Africa and abroad (such as elsewhere in Africa and China).
The new democratic regime adopted a policy designed to phase out the migrant system and promote the participation and inclusion of poor and local communities in the mainstream economy after 1994.
The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act adopted in 2002 aimed to redress the historical imbalances and inequalities and promote participation of local communities.
It promoted local procurement including labour. It aimed to annihilate the hostel and migrant labour system by this year.
Mining houses have so far adopted policies that promote local recruitment.
Impala Platinum, for example, prioritises recruitment within a 60km radius.
This has forged new boundaries of inclusion and exclusion.
Migrants from the Eastern Cape and Mozambique, for example, with a history that spans generations, now face this form of discrimination.
However, the migrant labour system has persisted, even though it may have changed.
The big question is how it regenerates itself, given the policy shift.
Ethnographic research in the platinum belt has shown that international and national migrants adopt various strategies to overcome being excluded.
Research has shown that the definition of the local community in the platinum belt is contentious. It is generally constituted through agreement.
However, some parts of the local community may be rejected.
Mining houses such as Impala Platinum define this through the spatial proximity to the mine. For some this means a nyone from within the province or ethnic and language groups.
However this may create anomalies: for example, a person from Taung, North West Province, which is about 410km away, is considered local because he/she is of Tswana ethnicity, against one from Limpopo province, only 200km away, who may be excluded.
Migrants have devised ways to navigate these boundaries. Research has shown that many international migrants secure local residential addresses to undermine the boundaries. In informal settlements proof of local address is through a letter from the local councillor, which in many communities may be illicitly acquired.
The new immigration policy discourages the recruitment of international migrants. A special exemption is required to recruit international migrants and this attracts a levy for each employee. Mining houses have since scaled down on this.
However, international migrants have adopted strategies to undermine this. Many migrants from Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho have devised strategies that make themselves invisible, to circumvent this form of exclusion.
Many of the international migrants at the onset of democracy in 1994 were integrated or assimilated.
However, many of them have maintained social ties with families in their countries of origin and thus have assumed the status of transnational migrants.
Research has highlighted that the majority of the miners who originated from Mozambique and now South Africans still have close families in Mozambique.
This undermines the state exclusion policies as new migrants may secure the documentation through their social ties to the transnational migrants.
Other migrants integrate into the local communities through various means such as marriage and adoption of the local culture and language, albeit with challenges.
The shift of migrant labour to invisibility has sustained it against policy shift, but in a different form.
Some migrants are assimilated and integrated into the host communities. However, research has shown that the assimilation may be segmented.
As a result, there have been many “job seeker riots” in the platinum belt, in protest against the alleged preferential recruitment of foreigners.
The migrants are in some cases fully assimilated in the informal settlements, but not in the broader society.
However, what is underlying this is that the migrant labour system is persisting, but in a different form that escapes both visibility and measurement.
The proliferation of informal settlements in the platinum belt is perhaps a vindication of this “invisible” reality. -Saturday Star
Crispen Chinguno is a PhD Fellow at the Society, Work and Development Institute, University of the Witwatersrand.