It’s a matter of pride, of life

2011-07-23 14:08

Sophie Mabe toiled for 25 years at the Phalaborwa copper mines, working at the Palabora Mining Company to rear her offspring and siblings.

As an ordinary black woman, Skeli, as she was affectionately known, was very much alive to the fact that her only relationship with the mine was to iron clothes and make tea for the mining bosses.

The only significant acknowledgement after her long years of service was a gold-plated Citizen wristwatch engraved with her initials, surname and years of service underneath.

To Skeli and the rest of the Ba-Phalaborwa community in the northeastern part of Limpopo, the mine was but another source of employment. They did not have any sense of ownership of it, nor the minerals that nature had bestowed beneath the earth.

But it was clear who the main beneficiaries of the loot were, easily discerned from the houses the mine bosses stayed in, the cars they drove, the private school education for their children, their holidays abroad and other benefits that set them apart.

Every year towards the festive season, the children from the surrounding black communities were treated to a “Christmas tree” party, where they were showered with gifts, food and sweets, as well as highbrow games such as cart racing.

This was an event worth looking forward to for all of us. But that, sadly, was as far as the mine’s interest in the community went.

Simply put, being born on the land teeming with mineral riches offered no guarantees of an improved life. Instead, it deepened the economic divide.

Apart from the low-paying jobs, the mines have not contributed much to their communities, at least in this part of the world.

The industry has grown on the backs of people like the late Skeli; only to fold and leave when the minerals are depleted, leaving untold misery and the devastation of lung disease and disability in many areas.

From the time when gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand and diamonds in Kimberley, the mining industry has been merciless at exploiting both minerals and cheap labour across South Africa.

The industry has left communities with a legacy of asbestosis in Limpopo, silicosis in Free State and acid mine water drainage problems in Gauteng, threatening the livelihoods of people on Joburg’s East and West Rand.

Instead of taking responsibility, the mining industry claimed that those who operated the mines that caused acid-water seepage have since left, just as they abandoned Joburg, leaving the city’s skyline blighted by hideous mine dumps.

The calls for mine nationalisation by the ANC Youth League come on the back of these problems of the mining industry, which has resisted change to this day despite transformation legislation.

To this day, these mines continue to employ impoverished labourers whose lives are far removed from their wealthy bosses, who proudly haul the minerals abroad and pocket handsome profits.

During the 1955 adoption of the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People in Kliptown, Joburg, the ANC pronounced that “the national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people and that the mineral wealth beneath the soil shall be transferred to the ownership of the people”.

The watershed 2007 ANC conference in Polokwane further affirmed the Freedom Charter as its maximum programme of action going forward to the centenary of the ANC next year.

Unfortunately, the song is becoming too loud and the youth have jumped to its tune with vigour – to the dismay of many who never saw truth in pride.

The transferring of the mines or, as the charter states, “mineral wealth beneath the soil” to greater ownership by the people and for the benefit of the majority will be an embodiment of permanent pride.

It is only recently that so-called big businesses have chosen to join what has now become the “big debate”: mine nationalisation.

The writing on the wall is becoming much clearer and the youth’s energy has intensified.

The moguls have not given up their campaign to lobby and denounce nationalisation publicly, even when it is in the public interest.

Instead of enriching the debate and providing other necessary interventionist alternatives, they sought to label the call as misdirected and ill-informed, and go further to perpetuate the status quo by threatening the economy with the flight of capital.

Apart from punting the hobby horse that nationalisation has failed in certain countries, the mining sector has failed to offer alternatives of how the common mineral heritage can be exploited to the benefit of the entire nation.

This country is faced with immense challenges, not least of which is unemployment and poverty, which affects the black youth disproportionately.
This happens in a country that sits on reserves which are estimated to be worth $2?trillion (about R13.5?trillion).

With that bounty, there is a lot that government can do to alleviate the social ills inherited from apartheid.

The mining industry’s contribution towards the national fiscus should go beyond royalties and mining taxes.

Their total earnings on output should be calculated as part of the overall distribution to the citizenry, year on year, with possible rebates and tax holidays enjoyed on practical and sustainable community integration.

The mining sector has shed hundreds of thousands of jobs over the past decade despite the existence of the aforementioned reserves.

The youth should remain determined and resolute in realising economic freedom in this lifetime – which constitutes the critical emancipation of blacks in general and Africans in particular.

If the status quo prevails, the mining industry will continue giving retiring workers cheap wristwatches for their years of service instead of ensuring an equitable share of our common heritage.

The mines do not build schools, houses or hospitals. Apart from paying taxes like any other corporate citizen, the industry is single-minded in putting its shareholders’ interests above those of communities where they work.

It is a travesty that the beneficiaries of the mineral wealth of this country are in Europe, the United States and Australia.

Critics of nationalisation point to a few parastatals which have failed to create value as an example of what happens when the state runs big companies.
That argument is blind to many other agencies and parastatals which are so efficiently run that they are never reported on in the media.

The argument also ignores the fact that the youth league has never encouraged the wholesale takeover of mines by inexperienced cadres.

In its policy proposal, the youth league clearly sees and defines a role for the current exploiters of the mineral resources.

The youth league’s proposal seeks to advance the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act by insisting that government not only becomes a distant custodian of mineral resources, but an active participant in their exploitation for the greater common good.

It is only when that takes place that economic freedom will truly be realised.

The mining industry has had a century old honeymoon in which they devastated lives and made unhindered profits without giving back. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Mabe is the ANC Youth League’s treasurer-general. He writes in his personal capacity 

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.