Rustenburg - Employees in the platinum mine sector finally returned to work on Wednesday after a five-month strike – but the mining companies face a new hurdle.
More and more miners were unfit to resume duty as they had taken ill, adding to the high numbers of their sickly colleagues who have defaulted on their chronic medication.
Sources at Rustenburg’s three major platinum mining firms said some miners had failed their mandatory health checks, following the screening process that started on Wednesday.
“People who were fit for work before the strike did not pass the medical tests. We haven’t tested many workers, but it’s worrying,” said a source involved with the medical screening at Lonmin.
The problem was also highlighted by a senior executive involved with the three platinum producers: Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) and Impala Platinum (Implats).
“It is correct that the companies are facing these challenges. Workers have been away for a long time and many have taken ill, while those who had been sick before defaulted on their chronic medication,” the source said.
Lonmin spokeswoman Lerato Molebatsi said it was premature to say whether more miners had taken ill as “only 20 000” of the “70 percent workforce” that returned to work had been screened by late afternoon.
She was quoted last week as saying that about 3 000 Lonmin miners had defaulted on their chronic treatment for diabetes, hypertension and antiretroviral drugs.
“We are doing our utmost to take the treatment to them and we are sending messages for people to come and get their treatment,” she added.
Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole and her counterpart at Implats, Johan Theron, were also quoted as saying there were a number of employees who had defaulted on their chronic treatment.
But there were no signs of health concerns among the mineworkers in Marikana. The town sprung back to life from 5am, as thousands of jubilant miners reported for work for the first time since January 23.
This followed Tuesday’s signing of a revised wage deal by mine bosses and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.
In terms of the revised wage agreement, workers will receive a salary increase of R1 000 in the first two years and R950 in the third, among others.
At Nkaneng township, adjacent to Lonmin’s main Rowland shaft, the workers began streaming out of the settlement before dawn.
They were met by mine officials, including shaft supervisors and mine overseers, who formed a guard of honour at the mine entrance.
There were high-fives, handshakes and hugs as more than a dozen mine officials exchanged greetings with the miners.
The sounds of “Molo! Molo!” and “Môre, môre (good morning)” pierced the chill.
Buses trundled in, as did minibus taxis and private vehicles dropping off throngs of miners. Others proceeded to the neighbouring shafts.
Chants of “hunger is gone”, were heard from the workers standing in the queue.
Among them was Bigfish Kgosing, as well as 41-year-old Anna Ngwenya.
“I am so relieved. My children have often missed classes because they didn’t have money for transport,” Kgosing said.
Mine officials said it would take a bit longer for production to get under way.
Apart from the medical check-ups, they have to ensure that all the safety precautions were in place. This included draining any water that might have seeped into the mines, ensuring there was sufficient ventilation underground and checking for potential rockfalls.