Rustenburg - Fear and famine – that is the reality of the striking miners and their working counterparts at Lonmin mine.
A security guard at the Rustenburg mine, tasked with escorting the company buses meant to ferry mineworkers to work, said on Friday that they were afraid of being attacked by striking mineworkers.
“I am risking with my life here. I am afraid that they (the striking miners) will kill me,” said one bus driver.
They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being victimised.
When Lonmin announced Wednesday was the deadline for the striking miners to return to work, the ultimatum came with the pronouncement that returning miners would have to be ferried to work by company buses. That put the bus drivers in the firing line.
“It’s risky but it’s their (Lonmin management’s) order. There is nothing we can do,” said a driver, who has been working there for two years.
“The security (guards) and the police escort us, but only when we drive to work. No patrol (escort) when we go back to the depot.
“We also don’t feel safe at home. My wife is very concerned about my safety.
“My sister keeps calling, checking if I am fine. She says I must leave this job, but I can’t just quit.
“But it’s useless because the people are afraid to get into the buses. The buses are running empty.”
At a media briefing on Thursday, Lonmin management decried the violence and intimidation that was deterring miners desperate to return to work.
This followed the killing of four people in the neighbouring Bapho Ba Mogale community, near Brits.
The four month-long strike has hit three of North West’s premium platinum mines.
Another security guard escorting the buses said he was so worried he was thinking about quitting.
A few days before the Marikana massacre in August 2012, two security guards were among the 10 people killed, allegedly by striking miners.
On Thursday, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the police would not hesitate to take action if the striking miners continued intimidating other workers.
But this has done little to ease the guard’s anxiety. “How many have died before and after Marikana (massacre)? They just talk, talk but do nothing. My family still needs me because my children are still young. I just wish (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union leader) Joseph Mathunjwa and management can resolve this.”
On Wednesday, Mathunjwa got a hero’s welcome as he arrived at Marikana in a convoy of sleek vehicles, including two BMWs, to address the striking miners.
But Mathunjwa is gone and his supporters have returned to their homes to the reality of hunger.
“I told you to (take a photograph of) this child so that (President Jacob) Zuma can see how she is suffering. She is 6 months old but she is so small that she looks like she’s 2 months old because there is no food,” said Nosiphiwe Maxhaka, 26, said.
Since the strike started, she and her family have survived on the social grants they get for their two children.
The situation is just as grim for Alberto Manhavele, 47, a miner who now sells firewood. Yesterday, he and a group of fellow residents collected broken pallets to sell for firewood.
“I used to do this (collecting wood) for myself but I started selling because many people kept asking to buy. Not many people have money to buy electricity. This strike is (taking much) too (long),” said Manhavele, who is originally from Mozambique.
“My relatives send me some money but it’s not enough. I also try to grow some vegetables to sell but they are now dying because of the cold.”
As Manhavele spoke, a tipper truck pulled up and started dumping broken planks, sending him and his group into a frenzy as they collected the wood.
“I know that people strike in South Africa but this is taking too long. We are suffering. What if this mine closes?” Manhavele asked.
It’s not just him who relies on relatives and other good Samaritans to survive.
In the town of Marikana, about 30 people waited in a queue at the “money market” at Shoprite. A teller told Saturday Star most of the transactions were withdrawals because of the strike.
In Wonderkop, dozens of people stood in a line in one of the yards next to the clinic, clutching small containers and dishes. The yard is the home of Seipati Mmekwa and her husband Bishop Mmekwa. The couple recently started a feeding project after realising that many people were starving.
“Three weeks ago, I saw one woman collapse next to my yard. She said she had not had food for three days.
“I asked my husband to start the project and he agreed,” Seipati said.
More and more men and women, including striking miners, arrived, all with containers in their hands. Some of them, if not most, Seipati said, suffer from terminal illness. “Many of these people are on antiretrovirals. It’s such as shame but God is great.”
Amcu members at Lonmin, Amplats and Implats in Rustenburg, and Northam in Limpopo, downed tools on January 23 demanding a basic salary of R12 500 a month. They have rejected the companies’ offer of a 10 percent increase that will see miners earning a minimum of R12 500 by 2017.