Marikana’s traders face grim times
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On the third anniversary of the Marikana Massacre, where more than 40 people died violently following a strike by Lonmin mineworkers, informal traders in the area known as the Platinum Belt are bracing themselves for tough times ahead amid threats of a new wave of job cuts in the mining sector.
Announcing plans to shed 6 000 and 53 000 jobs respectively, both Lonmin and Anglo American have cited rising labour costs, depressed metal prices and unreliable power supply as the reasons why they are curbing operations and shedding jobs.
Government has stepped in to try and force the mining industry to find alternatives to the massive planned retrenchments.
Last week, Mineral and Energy Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi suspended a licence for a coal mining company, saying it did not follow the law when it implemented about 1 000 job cuts. He later made a u-turn and lifted the suspension.
The proposed job cuts come barely a year after the end of a crippling five-month strike in the platinum sector that almost brought the economy of South Africa to its knees and created a semi-ghost town in Marikana when business activity ground to a halt.
Many shops closed down during the strike, while those that continued operating did so at a loss after thousands of the migrant labour force went back home. Those who chose to remain in the area struggled with no income.
Rates of unemployment went up, as did crime levels – especially robberies in the local communities; mainly in informal settlements – after companies doing business with the mines were also forced to close shop and retrench workers.
Last month the Farlam Commission Report into the Marikana Massacre, commissioned by the president in 2012, released its findings, including a scathing view of the conditions in which miners live in the Platinum Belt especially, saying they were not conducive to human development and growth.
Experts also told the Farlam Commission that some of the reasons that led to the strike for a basic wage of R12 000 was that miners were over-indebted to the string of loan sharks that had mushroomed in and around Marikana.
Indeed, following the deaths of the miners and the protracted strike, many mining houses – including Lonmin and Anglo – embarked on a financial education campaign to help the employees manage their financial affairs prudently.
When Independent News visited Marikana this week, the small town, composed mainly of informal traders, was still reeling from the losses of previous strikes, and was also bracing itself for the impending threats of job losses at the mines.
Most traders say their existence is dependent solely on servicing the needs and wants of the mining communities and if the companies go ahead with the retrenchments, they’ll have no choice but to close shop.
The traders say they’re paying the price for the losses incurred during the five-month long strike in 2014, and that they’re still battling to break even. A snap survey of the area shows that many “payday loan” outlets are standing idle. Patrick Mamoedi is manning a “satellite” office of Value Build that serves as a building supplier and a cash-loan outlet all in one. He says business is bad as it is.
Asked what would happen if the proposed retrenchments at the platinum mines are carried through, his response is telling.
Mamoedi says currently none of the FTI (Financial Trading Institutions) would touch the miners. “Babodile (they’ve been credit-blacklisted) and nobody is doing business with them anymore.”
According to Mamoedi, out of 20 people that he would see on a busy day – mostly miners – only one has a clean credit record. The rest go back empty-handed because they’ve either defaulted on payments or stopped paying creditors altogether.
“Many aren’t servicing their debt and hide behind the strike, and yet they are the ones who chose to default on their payments.
“Others go and reverse debit orders after they’ve gone through. Business is bad here as you can see; there aren’t people queuing for services,” he says.
Imran Mian, who runs a cellphone outlet, still hasn’t recovered from the strike, and fears that job cuts will force his business to close as he’s battling to break even.
“We deal mainly with miners because they are the people who have money. The rest of the communities are poor people who do small jobs. I’ve been operating for more than three years and the dollar/rand exchange rate is expensive for imports.
“When we first started here, there was no crime in Marikana. But recently Shoprite and Edgars were robbed. Even women are involved in some of these robberies. The other day, four men and four women tried to rob a store. You can’t trust anybody,” he says.
The guy next door, Imram Ali, who runs a hardware store, fears being robbed, because people are desperate and have no jobs. Before the strike, he sold about 10 000 units a week, but hasn’t risen above the 3 000 units that he currently sells: “If the mining companies retrench, then it’s going to be difficult for us. We don’t know how we’ll survive, as we’re not exactly where we were before the strike.”
David Same, who manages Joburg Big Discount Fashions, says that if the retrenchments are carried through, it would mean businesses will have to close down, “because we can’t afford to pay rent, salaries and expenses if we aren’t making profits”.
For Cut Price Furniture Store’s manager Ali Ahmed, the future looks dire because, whether people buy or not, he is saddled with paying rent and salaries of the four staff members he employs. He says there are more than 10 workers at the warehouse where they keep stock, and those jobs, too, are in danger.
“We have people who’ve been with us for more than four years. We’re barely making money, and we’re paying salaries from our pockets. If the mines retrench, our businesses won’t survive and we’ll have to retrench people or close shop.”