Job cuts leave miners facing bleak future

2013-01-18 08:46

With 14 000 job cuts threatened at Anglo American Platinum’s South Africa mines, an army of men face the grim task of paying debts, children’s school fees and supporting families without any income.

This week’s announcement that Amplats was closing four shafts in South Africa’s rugged highveld should not have come as much of a surprise.

During last year’s bloody labour strikes, the country’s mining sector warned that inflated wage bills would render operations uneconomical.

Those protestations may have self-servingly overlooked decades of under-investment and profit gouging, but when Amplats revealed its plans this week, the rationale was known.

Still, it came like a hammer blow to the men whose livelihoods now hang in the balance.

“It’s very bad,” said a distraught 29-year-old, who gave his name only as Kop. “I don’t have words. It’s difficult for me.”

“My child is supposed to go to school.”

For many of the half million who labour in South Africa’s mines, it is relatively well paid work in a country were one in four have no job, and where poverty is endemic.

Although the posts are often far from home, the work also offers a leg up the social ladder, even if many – with the aid of unscrupulous payday lenders – tried to climb higher than their means would allow.

Johannes Mongane even brought his family from neighbouring Lesotho to live with him in Rustenburg, where 13 000 of the 14 000 jobs will be lost.

“We’ve got a lot of responsibilities,” he said.

“We’ve got cars to pay, we’ve got houses to pay, and if this is going to happen that at the end of the day we’re going to lose our jobs, it’s crisis itself.”

Amplats has pledged to create 14 000 new jobs elsewhere closer to the miners’ home regions to replace the loss of income.

The firm says it has various projects in “housing, infrastructure and small business development”.

Besides a severance package, it also promised skills training to prepare retrenched workers for new work. But it seems unlikely that every lost job will be replaced.

Few believe it will create 14 000 sustainable jobs overnight through bricklaying.

“The labour market in general is extraordinarily difficult and to reassign this quantity of workers in another capacity in an industry in stress is going to be very difficult,” said labour analyst Daniel Silke.

“It ought to be seen as a public relations attempt at trying to ameliorate the worst effect of closures of the mines,” he added.

“The reality will soon set in in terms of difficulty to find employment.”

Some miners still have not received notice of the planned restructuring and like optimists, they cling to hope that the jobs losses will not materialise.

“I don’t know. Maybe we’ll keep our jobs,” said one man protesting against the cuts as a police helicopter circled overhead and armoured security vehicles kept watch from a distance.

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