Economy / 20 September 2012, 11:37am / Michael Mpofu
Pretoria - Shocking living conditions at Marikana were a crisis for democracy as they left the community feeling “fenced out” and determined not to vote in elections, according to Bench Marks Foundation head researcher David van Wyk.
Describing the miserable living conditions in the Bojanala mine belt, Van Wyk - who has been conducting research there since 2005 - told Parliament’s oversight committee on mineral resources on Wednesday that workers at Marikana’s Lonmin mine did not want to be “left out of the wealth that is created”.
The foundation is a non-profit, faith-based organisation owned by churches in SA and monitors corporate social responsibility performance. Its chairman, Bishop Jo Seoka, played a key role in mediation efforts in Marikana.
Striking miners and their families felt “alienated” from society and this was not only a crisis in democracy” but it created a “power vacuum” where anyone could assume authority, and “we don’t want that”, Van Wyk told MPs on Wednesday. They had said they would not vote in elections.
He said the mines were still racist in structure. “We have not addressed issues of race effectively,” Van Wyk said.
The foundation was briefing the committee on living conditions in mining towns, with a major focus on Marikana.
Despite SA’s vast mineral wealth, poverty levels continued to increase and living and working conditions were unbearable for most.
Van Wyk said workers were treated far better in Zimbabwe’s platinum mines, despite the political climate, and companies provided staff with three or four-bedroomed houses made of brick.
Although Lonmin mine had been one of the first mines to have its social plan approved by authorities - which included details on how it would improve infrastructure and other services in the community - it had failed to implement the majority of these goals, said Van Wyk.
He referred to a Treasury report on the Bojanala district which showed that a mere 15.1 percent of the population older than 20 had received any form of schooling, while 19.7 percent had received some primary education. This meant almost 35 percent of the adult population in the district (approximately 1.27 million people) could be regarded as fully illiterate. A mere 5.5 percent had some tertiary education.
He said the violent protests in Marikana and surrounding areas were an indication of youth discontent with the lack of education.
“After carefully following education and monitoring the jobs situation, the foundation is not surprised that communities have erupted and predicts that more such conflict situations can be expected,” Van Wyk told the committee.
The water and sanitation crisis in the region was largely due to overcrowding in small RDP houses where people had built shacks attached to their homes in order to earn extra income from workers who came from out of town. This meant 15 to 20 people used the sanitation facilities in a small RDP house, which led to the filling up of sewage systems and their subsequent collapse. These had not been repaired, according to Van Wyk.
Surface water cleanliness had deteriorated and bilharzia had emerged in streams around Marikana.
Water now had to be obtained from outside the district.
Housing backlogs were sitting at almost 101 000 units, with a significant proportion in Rustenburg municipality, at 49 000. Although 22 000 houses had been completed between 2000 and 2005, it was still insufficient for the continuing increase in migrants to the region. Informal settlements and squatter camps had burgeoned.
Statistics for the HIV/Aids infection rate were hard to find, but the Bojanala district had the third-highest HIV prevalence of all districts in SA, at 35.3 percent. Only 37.7 percent of pregnant women had been tested despite this. The rise in the pandemic was due to high levels of prostitution, with sex workers from countries such as Mozambique forced to work by men who had brought them into the country. It was “an understatement to say it’s a failure of various institutions”, said DA MP Hendrik Schmidt.
He said local and provincial government had failed to manage their social responsibility.
“Too much emphasis has been placed on too few people who have become some of the richest in the world at the expense of [many].
“That is the failure of government,” Schmidt said.
Committee chairman Mpumelelo Gona said the report by the foundation was a reflection of the “obscene situation” in the mines.
The gap between CEOs and ordinary workers was far too wide.
Gona said there was great concern over the “capitalism system being applied in this country”.
“If we don’t pay attention to that [gap] we will see more Marikana situations erupt in the country,” said Gona.
Van Wyk said mining companies had sat in meetings with workers for many years but nothing much had changed. He said the government had also failed its people, especially since the Premier of the North West, Thandi Modise, had not visited Marikana since the shooting last month. “That for me is a failure,” said Van Wyk. “The problem with us is that we want people’s votes at election time and so we only see them then,” he said.
Provincial government officials in the North West were being rewarded based on the number of meetings they had attended and not on their interaction with people, Van Wyk told MPs.