Rustenburg - Marikana sprung back to life from as early as 5am as thousands of jubilant mineworkers reported to work for the first time following a protracted five-month strike.
Clear skies on the eastern horizon hung over the platinum mining area as the enthusiastic workers reported for the 6am shift following Tuesday’s signing of a revised wage deal by mine bosses at the three platinum mines in Rustenburg, North West, and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).
As the sun began to rise, a festive mood hovered over Nkaneng township, which was numbed by the strike.
Mineworkers began streaming out of the township before dusk eager to start their first shift after months of struggle.
At Lonmin’s main Rowland shaft, which is adjacent to Nkaneng, the workers were met by the mine officials, including shaft supervisors and mine overseers, who formed a guard of honour next to the mine entrance. They welcomed employees.
High fives, handshakes and hugs were the order of the day as the dozen-plus mine officials exchanged greetings with the returning mine bosses.
The sounds of molo, molo and môre, môre, môre (good morning) pierced the chilly morning.
More and more buses hurtled in, as did minibus taxis and private vehicles, dropping off throngs of returning miners. Others proceeded to neighbouring shafts.
By 6am, the queue of returning miners had stretched to about 1km.
It would take a bit longer for production at Lonmin and two other platinum mines - Anglo American Platinum mine and Impala Platinum mine - to start.
Returning miners must first undergo medical tests and refresher courses on safety.
“We have to screen them for things like blood pressure and sugar diabetes.
“It will take between 10 and 11 days to complete this,” said Johan Sadie, a shaft supervisor at Lonmin.
Lonmin has expressed concern that most of the workers who are on medication for terminal diseases, including HIV/Aids, did not take their medicine during the strike.
“We have to check if they are 100 percent fit to work underground in hot conditions. This shaft alone takes at least 4 500 workers, so it will take a while.”
Sadie said: “As soon as they finish with the medical induction, we will start with the refresher courses because people haven’t worked for five months and they may have forgotten safety precautions. It’s important that we don’t just rush people underground, so production won’t start immediately. We expect 50 percent of production in the first month. That will gradually pick up to 100 percent over three months.”
The workers were in a jovial mood as they returned to work, visibly unfazed by the biting weather.
Among them was Domingos Jala, 54, a father of seven who works as a rock drill operator.
Chants of “hunger is gone” could be heard intermittently from the workers standing in the queue.
“I am so happy that the strike is over. Our children will also be happy because they won’t suffer without food and going to school hungry,” said Jala, from Mozambique.
Others were counting their losses.
“I am so relieved. My children have often missed classes because they didn’t have money for transport. I have too much arrears of R10 000. When I count my losses in wages, it’s about R64 000,” said Bigfish Kgosing.
Annah Ngwengwa, 41, a mother of three working as a pump fitter, said: “I am so happy that it’s over… our children were not going to school and we have fallen behind in debts. It has been very tough. We may not have got R12 500, but R1 000 is a good start.”
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 year, among others.