‘Aurora shafts us’

2010-05-01 12:32

“Each month Aurora

doesn’t pay me, my kids go to bed hungry, I feel hopeless and helpless not being

able to provide for my family. I wouldn’t wish this situation on my worst

enemy,” says Ernest Novela (57) solemnly.

The Mozambican father of seven hasn’t been home in seven months

because he simply does not have the money.

His situation has become so bad that

four of his children have been kicked out of school because he can no longer

afford to pay the fees.

“My wife has resorted to ­selling the few belongings we have in

order to make ends meet,” he says.

Even turning to his shoe repair trade isn’t helping because very

little money is trickling in.

Novela is one of 2?444 workers at the East Rand mines controlled by

Aurora Empowerment Systems.

The company has indicated that 1??441 of this labour force will

have to go.

Novela has been a Grootvlei miner since 1999 and says he was happy

with the working and living conditions until Aurora started running and managing

the two Pamodzi Gold mines, Grootvlei and Orkney, late last year.

“At first our salaries were halved, and by February we ­received

next to nothing.”

The atmosphere at the Grootvlei mining hostels in Springs is

ghost-like and empty.

A smell of desperation and hopelessness lingers in the air.

Says 54-year-old Lehlonolo Habasisa from Lesotho: “I’m sick and

tired of living like this. We are living like animals.”

It’s a Tuesday and he is dressed in a flimsy, tattered jacket and a

beanie, and tries hard to keep warm as he huddles over a bonfire with a group of

other miners from all corners of southern ­Africa.

He complains: “We are forced to bath with cold water in this

freezing weather. We have no electricity. The revolting food they give us is

something I wouldn’t even feed my own dog.”

Aurora has struggled to pay its water and lights bill, and service

providers have had to cut off the supply to the mine.

The workers say that stale mealie-meal and cabbage was donated to

them during the week. On some days they receive nothing.

They said sleeping conditions were appalling, with six to eight men

cramped into one cockroach-infested room.

The few lucky ones have blankets, the rest have to make do by

dressing up and sleeping in their warmest jackets.

“We are stranded and destitute. We don’t have enough money to go

home and take care of our families and we also can’t take care of ourselves.

“We can’t buy food or blankets. Our entire livelihood is in

Aurora’s hands,” says Habasisa.

The miners are doubtful that any immediate change in their

circumstances could take place.

Says Nelson Shikwambana, a 34-year old from Limpopo: “Those Aurora

people, Mandela and Zuma, they are full of empty promises and lies. For how long

have they been promising to pay us?

“I no longer believe in anything they have to say. They should be

ashamed of themselves for treating us this way.

“We might be uneducated but we are not idiots.

“I’m taking the first bus out of this hell hole as soon as I have

the money,” says Shikwambana.

Martin Mabutyana (61) from the Eastern Cape is a rarity in these

bleak surroundings. The hard past few months without pay has not left him


He is an optimistic miner and priest, with an infectious toothy

smile and abundant energy.

“I’m hopeful that things will go well in the end. I’m a man of

faith. The Lord has a plan for us all and I truly believe that the worst is now


“My unwavering hope keeps me going,” he declares.

But disheartened branch chairperson (shop steward) Frafy Namanyana

says he will only believe there is new funding after all the workers have been

paid in full and are back at work.

“The workers are angry and in very low


“I pray that this time, Aurora will keep its word,” he says.

Shortly after the Easter weekend, the workers clashed with police

over unpaid salaries.

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