An act of Chilean ubuntu

2010-10-16 09:08

In the ranking of working life, mining is the pits. It is hell on earth and we say this without degrading the work choices of the 33 miners the world has ­celebrated this week.

The San Jose mine in Chile was a deep one, much like many South African mines which go deeper as they age.

To get down, you take a rough lift down a shaft into the hot bowels of the earth. Passages are narrow and miners work bent, extracting the precious resources from the seams where they are hidden.

It is very physical and ­exhausting work, and miners must be skilled and organised into highly effective teams ­because life down there is interdependent.

And so the Chilean miners showed us through the 69 days they were trapped. Without each other, they would not have ­survived to emerge relatively unscathed this week.

With help from relatives, rescuers, ­government and well-wishers from across the world, the miners organised themselves so that they lived structured days divided into three shifts of eight hours per shift.

They performed ­assigned tasks and chores. A team cleaned, ­another cooked, several served as the postmen who sorted the mail that came down the pipes at midday each day.

One was the resident poet, meant to keep spirits up with rhyming ­couplets; while another served as the team doctor.

With no more than an advanced first aid ­diploma, Yonni Barrios Rojas got remote ­control help from doctors (including the ­country’s health minister) to provide round-the-clock care to his stranded fellow miners.

What has captured the world’s attention? Obviously, in a world bewitched by reality television, it didn’t get more real than this.

For all those days, the miners were screened live in arguably the best episode of Survivor yet. Would they make it out?

Their families camped atop the mine with shrines to the Chilean ­patron saint, the Virgin del Carmen, which made it a soap opera too.

But ultimately, what won the attention and what made it attract more viewers than the World Cup was the ­triumph of the human spirit that it revealed.

It was an act of ubuntu which brought ­together presidents, engineers from across the world (including South Africa), families and ­ordinary citizens to stage this ultimately ­successful rescue.

But as we celebrate the ­rescue of Los 33, we should not forget that 443 ­Chilean workers died in unsafe working ­conditions last year. And 155 died this year.

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