No shine in gold diggers’ lives

2010-11-20 10:01

Alfredo Johane has given more than half his life, 50 years to be precise, to the gold mines of Johannesburg but he has very little to show for his half century of hard work.

“Johannesburg is rich because of people like us. But what do we have? Nothing!” he says standing at the door to the bare cement-floor room he shares with three other miners.

Four single beds with sunken mattresses occupy each corner in the room. Next to them stand steel lockers in which the men store their worldly possessions and the little food they have left.

Along the walls the tools of their trade are neatly stacked together – gumboots, gloves and madolo (knee caps) – waiting for the day when operations commence again.

But it is unlikely the miners will wear these anytime soon as boardroom battles seem a long way from being settled.

Only this week liquidators gave the directors of Aurora Empowerment Systems, led by President Jacob Zuma’s nephew, Khulubuse Zuma, and Nelson
Mandela’s grandson, Zondwa Mandela, until the middle of next month to secure the R600 million they need to purchase the mine.

This is the umpteenth extension granted to the directors while the workers’ misery continues.

Trade unions, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Solidarity, which are organising workers at the mine, this week ­requested the removal of Enver Motala, the lead liquidator.

Johane arrived on the Reef from Mozambique in 1953 to work as a contract labourer on the mines around Germiston.

He was still at it early this year at the ripe old age of 75, working for Aurora Mining in Springs until things went awry in March.

He is one of more than 2 000 miners who have not been paid their salaries since March.

These days Johane haunts the streets of Springs like a restless soul in search of piece jobs while he waits for a solution to the problems that continue to trouble him and his 2 000 colleagues.

Sometimes he is just too depressed to go out in search of work.

On such days he walks aimlessly around the mine hostel where overgrown lawns and deserted ­residential blocks point to trouble in paradise.

And as the battles rage this miner’s suffering continues.

“There is no work back home. Everyone is poor. I am the only one who provides for all of them, my children, my grandchildren, everyone,” Johane says.

“I am an old man. I spent my whole life working in Johannesburg, making others rich and today I have to beg. I go around doing rubbish jobs like cleaning dogs’ shit for R10, sometimes R20. This is not the way an old man who has worked so hard should be treated,” he says.

Mncedi Phenduka (64) arrived on the mines as a teenager in 1961. When political change took place in the country in the early 1990s he left the mine hostel to join thousands of other miners in the Gugulethu squatter camp.

He brought his wife and children to live with him. His wife died two years ago and he now lives with three of his seven children.

“Companies have come and gone but this is the first time I have had to suffer like this,” he says.

He worked his way up from being a malaisha (manual labourer) to ­being an instructor.

He was earning R4 800 until March when, instead of getting his full pay, he received only R500.

In fact, the last time he had any cash in his pockets was sometime in May when his adult children sent him R700.

These days he spends his days wandering between his home and the mine hostel hoping for good news.

In between he sits in the shade and reminisces of a time when miners were paid on time, were fed daily and raised children on the meagre salaries they earned.

“It was not much but we have no education and things were different then so this was the only work most of us could find,” he says.

“The money I earned on the mines helped me buy cattle, get married and raise children. But what is happening today makes me very sad.

“These directors are playing games with our lives. They do not care about the interests of those who work hard.”

On a chilly, overcast Thursday morning this week miners gathered in an amphitheatre where the thud of gumboot dancers once ­reverberated to loud cheers and ­applause.

But on this day there was nothing to cheer about. They were there for serious business – management had written to NUM with a proposal.

But the meeting rejected the proposal in which management had proposed to pay foreigners some of their monies and then transport them back to their respective international borders, where they would be dumped and left to fend for themselves.

Speaker after speaker raised their voices to reject the offer.

Union leaders called off the meeting. The miners walked back to their hostels to wait – for how long they do not know.

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