Rustenburg - As mine bosses and union leaders signed the revised wage deal that officially ended South Africa’s longest strike on Tueday, suffering workers revealed how they almost hadn’t made it.
The platinum belt strike reached its conclusion on Monday, five months to the day it began.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) declared the strike over and urged its members at Lonmin, Impala Platinum (Implats) and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) to go back to work on Wednesday.
There was a hive of activity and high spirits at Marikana on Tuesday as workers prepared to report for duty on Wednesday.
When Elizabeth Coosa heard that the strike was over, she ran to her neighbour’s house and started singing with her children. She and her estranged husband are miners.
With her unkempt hair hidden under two headscarves, the mother-of-five has not had the luxury of body lotion or gel for her hair.
There were many times when she and the children went to bed hungry and woke up to no food.
At some point, the 50-year-old said she felt like leaving her children so that she would not have to look into their hungry faces as they asked to be fed.
One day, when there was nothing in the house, she left very early in the morning to ask for money to buy some food, but came back empty-handed.
Afraid to enter the house to face her hungry children, she sat on a rock at her gate – close to tears but unable to cry.
Her asthmatic daughter, seeing the state her mother was in, was taken to hospital on the same day as she became depressed herself.
Their neighbour, Tshepo Dipholo, started a vegetable garden when the strike began. The garden sustained the family and many others who had no food.
Coosa, who is a plant operator, has been working at Lonmin for 18 years. Until 2010, she was earning R2 400 after deductions, she said.
“It was only after a metallurgist at work saw that I had qualifications that she fought and I was promoted in 2012. I started getting about R9 000 after deductions.
“When we get our new salaries, I will buy R2 000 in groceries and have a braai. I have forgotten what red meat tastes like,” she said.
Aspiring musician Vuyani Gowana said his guitar kept him sane and gave him strength to persevere through those difficult months.
Whenever the hardships got too much for him, he would take out his guitar and start singing.
“Sifun’imali Mathunjwa, khawuzame (We want money Mathunjwa, make it possible),” he sang as he strummed his guitar.
In the middle of the night, when sleep eluded him and he was stressed, he would reach for the guitar, sit on the bed in his tiny shack and start composing sad songs about his difficult life and sing about being broke, hungry and being unable to support his children.
On Tuesday, however, Gowana was all smiles as he walked under the scorching Marikana sun, playing his guitar.
“Siyajabula, ziphumelele ezi miners (We are happy these miners have succeeded),” he sang.
Originally from Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape, Gowana takes care of his wife, three children, mother and younger brother, but his mother had to give him some of her pension money so that he could survive.
Gowana would buy mealie meal and cook himself soft porridge, which he sweetened with sugar.
“That meal satisfied me because I knew that one day my children’s lives would be better. During the strike they wanted to go on a school tour and I could not afford to pay for them.
“Now that the strike is over and I will get a better salary, I will buy them something nice so that they see their father has a job,” he said.
Gowana used to earn R4 400 after deductions and believes that he will get more than R5 000 take-home pay now – a salary which he hopes will help him to build his own house.
Gowana wasn’t the only one who had to depend on relatives to get by.
Patrick Cele’s grandchildren’s child-support grants kept him alive.
His three daughters have five children between them and they used to send him some of the children’s money.
“It was not easy accepting my grandchildren’s money, but what could I do?” he asked.
Cele, of Harding, KwaZulu-Natal, plans to deny himself many things when he gets his salary. Instead, he hopes to spoil his children and grandchildren.
Mining companies and their employees lost billions in revenue and wages during the industrial action.