By Michael Pröbsting (Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, RCIT), 21.8.2012
In this short article we want to give a few information’s about the difficult situation of the miners in South Africa. For this we use the findings of the recently published study by the Bench Marks Foundation “”POLICY GAP 6: A Review of Platinum Mining in the Bojanala District of the North West Province”. The Bench Marks Foundation is no left-wing or socialist grouping with an anti-capitalist agenda, but a NGO close to the Church. This makes their findings even more useful since it shows that even people who lack any Marxist understanding of the exploitation of the workers by the capitalists, that even people with a rather liberal or religious world view can see the appalling and reckless behavior of the mining corporations in South Africa.
As it is widely known, the miners in Marikana working for the Linmin Corporation earn only R4.000 a month. For this they have to work in a highly dangerous job. In 2010 there were at Lonmin three fatal accidents, in 2011 (in the time before the official Lonmin annual report was published) six miners died by accident. There are much more non-fatal accidents.
All in all Lonmin employs 23.915 employees permanently, the majority of them at Marikana. In addition, the corporation employs 9.131 full time contractors. In other words, about 1/3 of the Lonmin workers are sub-contractors. Many of them are migrants from Lesotho or coming from very poor rural areas.
Lonmin doesn’t care about the education of its workers. While we don’t have the exact figures for the Marikana mine, we know from the Impala Platinum Corporation that 43% of the miners are illiterate. This means that they can't read the health and safety signage or the first aid, health and safety manuals, notices and literature. Of course the capitalist don’t see a reason to give the workers basic literacy education.
However the appalling conditions of the miners are not limited to the low wages and the terrible security conditions. The living conditions for them and their families in Marikana are also particularly bad. Many of them live in shacks and often lack water or electricity. The research team reports in their study: “The visits by the Bench Marks Foundation research team to Marikana convince us that the residential conditions under which Lonmin and other mine company employees live are appalling. This can be seen in the proliferation of shacks and informal settlements, the rapid deterioration of formal infra-structure and housing in Marikana itself, and the fact that a section of the township constructed by Lonmin did not have electricity for more than a month during the time of our last visit. At the RDP Township we found broken down drainage systems spilling directly into the river at three different points. Residents informed the Bench Marks Foundation team that they have been reporting the matter to both the Local Government and Lonmin for five years now, and it still remains unaddressed.”
Another worsening problem for the living conditions for the miners and the communities is the terrible destructive consequences of the corporations mining policy for the environment. The study reports about awful consequences from the mines lack of environmental standards for air and water pollution. As a result many miners and farmers – and in particular their children – suffer chronic illnesses. The farmers around the mines are often forced to give up their land as a result and the mining corporations buy up their land cheaply.
It is hardly surprising that under these horrible conditions the immune system of the workers and farmers in the mining communities is very weak. The study quotes estimations from the chambers of Mines that between 25-30% of the miners are HIV/AIDS infected. Amongst people in the surrounding communities this infection rate is estimated even higher!
At the same time Lonmin, the world's third-biggest platinum producer, makes huge profits. This is hardly surprising since the price for platinum grew by 300% in the past 10 year. According to BBC pre-tax profits in the six months to 31 March 2012 were $18m and in the same period a year earlier it was even $159m. (14 May 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-18056887)
For all these reasons the miners are fighting for a substantial wage increase. Already in May 2011 workers at Lonmin went on strike which – like this time – was also betrayed by NUM union bureaucracy. As a result Lonmin sacked 9.000 miners at that time. The miners and their families are determined to win this time. The miners at Impala Platinum, the world's second biggest platinum producer, won earlier this year an increase of their wages from R4.000 to R9.000 after a six-week strike. The miners at Lonmin will need our solidarity to win this struggle.
As one can see from the terrible conditions for the miners the struggle for their rights obviously includes a wage increase to R12.500 but also a substantial improvement of the housing and environmental conditions. This is why the Workers International Vanguard Party, the RCIT and many socialists in South Africa demand the nationalization of the mines under control of the workers. Only in this way can mining became safer and less destructive for the environment.
Victory to the miners in South Africa!