An education is a permanent resource that can never be taken away. Every able-bodied human being with a healthy mind can be channelled into a valuable source of intellectual capacity.

Education also empowers the individual in any career path that he or she may embark on. In our insightful coverage of the platinum strike over the years, Business Report has conducted a series of informative interviews with various stakeholders that are involved in the platinum belt and a recurring theme was that of the “novice” mineworker’s lack of skill and high competition for jobs at an operator level and beyond.

In fact, one of the grievances outlined by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) when it delivered its memorandums to the big three platinum producers, Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum (Implats) in March was that many of its members were not being equipped with skills to enable them to rise through the ranks or seek other opportunities where they could experience some level of career progression. The story of a decent education is a shameful one when one looks at the meaning of life in the South African context.

Throughout the history of South Africa black people were marginalised and kept at the margins of a decent education which made their pacification and dispossession by colonial authorities all the more easier.

When apartheid entered the fray, the white supremist government of the era introduced Bantu Education, a system that argued against teaching subjects such as mathematics to a black child because “he/she would never use it in his/her lifetime”. The system was designed to produce garden boys and domestic workers.

Enter post-democratic South Africa and we find ourselves in a space where the nation has lost a whole generation of intellectual capacity thanks to outcomes-based education. Fast forward to 2014, the backbone of the South African economy, the mining sector, finds itself in a position where workers are still fighting for the same basic socio-economic rights that they have been fighting for since the discovery of precious minerals beneath our land.

By his own admission, Johan Theron, an executive director at Implats, said the mine employed at least 5 000 people in the “novice” category and about 15 000 in the operator level.

Thereafter, there were only 3 000 jobs available in the supervisory category that 15 000 individuals had to compete for. As a result, only those who empowered themselves academically, acquiring the necessary skills, get promoted. The main grievance raised by Amcu is that opportunities for career progression should be across the board, everyone should get a fair chance at gaining the necessary skills to earn more money.

He was of the view that decent work “is also underpinned by the principles of career progression”. He called for the companies to “embark on a programme of skills development to train workers with a view of promoting them into senior positions” in the companies. This could be achieved by tapping into the National Skills Fund to help develop scarce skills, he argued.

Over the colonial and apartheid periods the mining companies, in cahoots with the powers that be during those painful periods, did very little to help equip black workers with the necessary tools for success.

When Amcu compares wages earned by other miners in other parts of the world such as Australia and South America, which are substantially higher, it is satisfactory to conclude that the companies and governments of those countries provide a sufficient education for their workers to progress in the companies and also venture into other markets.

Had the issue of education been addressed with the intent to empower workers, then the worst labour relations disaster to ever hit South Africa could have been avoided. This is a very important lesson for South Africa post the platinum strike. Invest in your intellectual capacity or burn!