Waiting to go home and die

2011-09-17 17:17

All Antonio Mintelane wants is to go home to Maputo to die, but he can’t. The 70-year-old former rigger team leader is stranded with some 600 other workers at the Aurora Grootvlei mine hostel, with no money to pay for his border permit.

He is desperately waiting for the R56 000 he is owed by the provident fund and in unpaid wages from the mining company so that he can be reunited with his ailing wife.

Mintelane, who worked for Aurora’s predecessors from 2000, says: “If you know anybody who can help me get my money I’ll be the happiest man in the world. At least then I’ll be able to go home and die in peace.

“I went to the Pamodzi offices in Rosebank to see about my money and they told me it is R56 000, but I can’t get it until after the liquidation. I was last paid in September 2009. Since Aurora came in, we have been paid nothing. I have no money to pay the R1 000 for each year’s permit to work, which the other employers paid, so I can’t cross the border.’’

While he waits for the liquidators to wind matters up, Mintelane ekes out a meagre existence by selling scrap metal and bottles.

Visibly angry, he leaves his hostel room, which he manages to somehow keep clean despite a lack of electricity and water.

It’s pitiful – three miserable sacks of broken bottles and rusted metal stashed at the end of his block. He pours the debris onto the ground and says: “Show people out there that this is how we are living.

“Before Aurora came in at least I had a living. I was able to live like a man. I could send money home and go see my wife, my children and my grandchildren. I’m not a man any more. The people who did this to us don’t even see us as humans,’’ he says.

Mintelane’s fellow workers, who are split between the hostel and the nearby township and shack settlement, share his hopelessness.

Every day is a fight for survival. Simply getting water to drink means a 700m walk with a container to the nearest tap, where 20 litres cost R7.80.

When they do get food, it has to be cooked on a fire of wood scavenged from the neighbourhood. There aren’t many trees left anywhere near the hostel.

There’s a palpable air of anger and despair hanging over the outdoor auditorium where the workers are meeting. It’s understandable. Not only are they starving and unpaid, but there’s very little hope of any kind of bailout.

“It is very hard to have any kind of hope,’’ says a member of the workers committee, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation.

“We have been dumped here. The people who have done this to us are connected. They are very powerful. They are close to those in government. We had to stand here and watch everything being taken away.

“Now we have to steal the scraps to survive and live on what handouts we can get. This mine is now f***ed. All we want is to get what they owe us and get out of here,” he says.

The committee member’s paranoia may not be that misplaced. Throughout our visit, a pair of security officers in camouflage uniforms with automatic weapons lurk in the background, “protecting’’ us, but in reality they’re watching every move and listening to who says what.

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