A life less platinum

2014-03-09 14:00

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Six weeks into a bruising strike on North West’s Platinum Belt, miners at Lonmin’s Wonderkop shaft have turned to each other to survive.

On Thursday, not all the members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) could make it to a march at the Union Buildings – some missed the buses from Rustenburg to Pretoria.

Moyagabo Maake and Mamello Masote caught up with these miners and asked them what life is like while they wait for a resolution.

They hope this will take the form of a R12?500 entry-level salary for all miners.

Six weeks on, those miners who live in hostels inside Lonmin’s Wonderkop compound and have chosen meal cards instead of a live-out allowance are able to eat as usual. For others, it’s tougher

‘There is no life here,” says Muzomhle Rilityane.

“We don’t earn any money so there is no life. When you earn money, there is life because you are able to buy food. But with no salary, you can’t buy food so there is no life. Living is painful right now.”

He has been a miner his whole life. In the mid-2000s, he had to stop working because he fell ill.

Doctors couldn’t say what was wrong with him and eventually he demanded they give him the all-clear so he could go back to work.

That’s when he went to Lonmin. “I have worked underground for so long and I have nothing to show for it,” he says.

The couple and their two small children live in a tiny shack in Marikana. Sometimes they go to bed without eating.

They survive by sharing food with neighbours and borrowing.

Some of the homes have patches of maize growing in the yards, but they have not yet borne fruit.

Muzomhle has no idea what’s going to happen with the strike.

“The white people are saying they don’t have the money so we don’t know what is going to happen after that,” he says.

According to him, the platinum mining companies’ refusal to negotiate fuelled miners’ anger.

“If, for example, they said they will give us net pay of R9?000 or perhaps R10?000 and said to us this is what we have, then maybe we would agree if we saw they were willing to work with us to get a higher salary.”

Vusumuzi Ngcako (left) and Vuyo Magutyana outside Vuyo’s shack

Vuyo Magutyana is a winch operator at Lonmin and has worked there for four years. He has seven kids back home in Eastern Cape. The miners are struggling, he says, but they help each other out with the little they have.

His colleague Vusumuzi Ngcako says they are relying on remittances from home – a grim change for men who are used to things being the other way around.

Ngcako has six children. Five are in Eastern Cape and one lives in Marikana.

His family is currently relying on government’s monthly R300 child support grant, which is a tough ask, he says.

“We go underground and risk our lives, but we don’t get paid enough, while there are people working in offices who receive a lot more money than you are. You risk your life, but receive money that makes you cry,” Ngcako says.

Magutyana says miners won’t back down on their demand for R12 500. “We don’t want it to come across as though we are lazy. We come from far and we live in dirty places but when we ask for more money we are told there is none.

“But there are people who earn millions while we go underground.”

He says if the mining companies give in to Amcu’s demands and retrenchments follow, at least they’ll receive retrenchment packages. “We’re not only doing this for ourselves now, but for the kids coming after us. They can get rid of us and give us retrenchment packages, but the workers coming after us can’t get what we’re getting now.”

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