Scapegoat syndrome

2012-09-15 11:37

The glaring reality is that the families of the dead miners will swell the ranks of those living in poverty

I would like to look at one aspect that came to mind as I was perusing last Sunday’s copy of City Press.

The issue gave an in-depth view into the victims of the so-called Marikana massacre – not just a body count and corpses scattered across a dusty plain, but the brothers, husbands, sons and friends of those left behind.

Lest we forget, the miners downed tools to demand a wage hike from R4 000 to R12 500 a month.

By any standard, their current wages are pathetic, small change in the face of rising fuel and commodity costs.

So it was startling to read of men responsible for more than one household. Even more startling was that in this day and age, some men are fathers of more than seven children (and their names aren’t Jacob Zuma) and they have unemployed wives.

On a monthly intern’s stipend, I can attest to the difficulty with which I personally manage my existence and my daughter’s.

I manage, if only barely, because she is my only dependant. It was disturbing to read of one deceased miner who was the only breadwinner for his family – a wife and 11 children, aged between four and 28.

Many others were also their family’s sole breadwinners.

This is by no means news. It’s a lot like looking at the mirror and noticing something that has always been there, but viewing it with a different outlook and renewed intensity.

The greed of the mine owners is something to be expected – the Malthusian population theory argues that “if wages continue to rise with capital accumulation, the level of profits will fall”. Lonmin and other mining companies aren’t in the business of making people feel secure or comfortable, hence labour is replaceable and a lot of communities around mines remain poor.

They don’t care how many dependants a miner’s salary supports. But should we really blame mining companies for the patriarchal order that so many men carry on their shoulders? Should we blame external entities for the men and women who continue to overburden themselves with too much responsibility?

On average, the take-home salary of a Swazi national, if divided equally among himself, his wife and children, means they live on just R307.69 a month. It is obvious miners were not only buckling under economic pressure, but structural and patriarchal pressure too. They had to be “real” men, as measured by the number of children or women they had.

Please don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe in men playing their role as providers and protectors, and I support the role of women as nurturers.

However, in a modern society, both men and women can interchange and share these roles for the welfare of their families.

The president recently discussed the Green Paper on Families and, though I felt the discussions around it are important, I also feel this is one area where the state must back off. It’s something society has to figure out on its own, given the many contradictions we see from government itself. Family structures of miners remain largely traditional and organic, not in sync with the current demand for “rational” families that are sustainable and don’t contribute towards the growing numbers of the poor.

While applauding the miners for taking care of their own, the consequences of large, unsustainable families aren’t only visible when one has died.

They are visible in the quality of education, healthcare and life children get. These are hardly possible in poor, large families and that is a form of deprivation.

The glaring reality is that the families of the dead miners will swell the ranks of those living in abject poverty, and both men and women are to blame – the women for bowing to patriarchy by not taking control of their sexual and reproductive health, and the men for thinking they can carry the world on their shoulders.

Isn’t it time we became agents of change? Isn’t it time we stopped perpetuating poverty? Isn’t it time we stopped giving Lonmin and company too much credit for the circumstances we may have helped to create? Isn’t it time we took responsibility?

» Motswatswe is a writer, a blogger and an intern in the public service

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