What a system! What a crime!

2012-03-03 11:00

In a city on a corner stands a house that’s mighty grand/
Where in glory and in splendour dwell the magnates of the Rand/
What a system! What a crime!
We can’t mend it, we must end it
End it now and for all times . . .
Up above the mining compound where he joins the picket line/
He’s a labour agitator and his life’s not worth a dime . . .

The above is a quotation from a song sung by British miners lamenting the fact that at the expense of their hard labour and, in many cases, loss of lives, they contribute to the opulent lifestyles of the mining magnates.

Meanwhile their lot is dire poverty as a result of poor wages, condemned to either violent deaths in rock falls or slow, painful deaths brought upon by many years of inhaling dust while digging for minerals underground.

It’s a song composed many decades ago. Sadly, this very criminal system still exists, and one of Africa’s richest kingdoms is a party to it.

speration, the anger and the defiance of the thousands of men who have been on strike in the platinum fields of Rustenburg for the past month.

Nceba Gcelu (31) is one of them. He has one great fear. He doesn’t want his children in the Eastern Cape to find themselves in the same situation that forced him to make the long journey to seek work on the mines.

A father of four, he now finds himself earning a salary of R3 000 a month as a winch operator employed by Impala Platinum.

Because of the grinding poverty of his family, he can only dream of a tertiary qualification that would have given him the privilege of choosing a better career and the prospect of a better life.

When the time came for him to start earning a living, he found himself on the train, embarking on the same journey that thousands before him had undertaken to seek work on the mines.

A young man with no qualifications and no other skills except herding cattle in the pastures of the Eastern Cape, he had few choices.

For the past five years, Gcelu has been living a hand-to-mouth existence. He rents a room at R450 a month in Freedom Park, a settlement of RDP houses and zinc shacks near Impala Shaft 8.

He spends some of the money on groceries for himself and sends the rest to his wife and four children.

Life to him doesn’t offer the frills of entertainment enjoyed by many, for every cent that lands in his pocket has to be channelled into the wellbeing of his family.

This sort of existence has driven others in his position to seek answers from the bottom of the bottle in the shebeens and taverns of Freedom Park.

Gcelu is worried that if things stay the way they are now, his children may find themselves treading the same route to the mines because there is no way he is going to be able to afford to pay for their tertiary education – that is if they even finish high school.

His greatest fear is that, like him, his children may find themselves trapped in the depressing poverty of Freedom Park and other similar settlements.

Who can blame him? It is this kind of situation that has led to the continuous cycle of poverty in the villages of southern Africa, where most mine workers come from.

The men, some of them sons of mine workers, grow up poor with little or no education.

Then, like their fathers, some even before they reach the age of 21, they are already joining the queue, waiting to continue the cycle. Speaking to the striking workers, many of whom have worked in the mines for most of their adult lives, it is apparent they are bent on breaking this cycle.

It’s a terrible existence. Their measly salaries mean they do not qualify for bank loans. Some have found themselves at the mercy of loan sharks who have found easy targets among the desperate men, offering them huge loans that plunge them into years of hefty repayments.

Last week, when Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi visited Freedom Park in a bid to persuade 17 000 striking miners to return to work, Gcelu broke through a police barricade clutching his pay slip.

In 2010, Royal Bafokeng Holdings made a net profit of R4.794 billion. The Royal Bafokeng Holdings, a company that controls the mineral wealth of the Bafokeng nation, holds an aggregate stake of 13.2% (83.11 million shares) in Implats, making them equally guilty of the heinous charge of exploitation and paying slave wages.

Perhaps the best way to make the powers that be understand the near impossibility of raising a family on R3 000 would be to make King Leruo Molotlegi lace up the workers’ boots and don overalls for a month.

After all, the crime of exploitation is being carried out right on his land by a company in which his tribe holds a sizeable stake.

Perhaps after a month of back-breaking work underground and a salary of R3 000, the reigning Bafokeng monarch may convince Implats that striking workers like Gcelu are not a problem; they are men with a big problem that needs to be resolved.

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