Aurora 'taints' Mandela legacy

2010-10-21 17:08

Springs – For Johannes Sabatana, the names "Mandela" and "Zuma" spell hunger, desperation and a possible life in crime.

Sabatana lives jobless and penniless on Grootvlei mine in Springs on Johannesburg's East Rand, and he has been playing with a terrifying thought recently: Where can he get a firearm?

He was born on the mine 31 years ago, where poverty-stricken miners last received salaries eight months ago from Aurora – the company run by among others Mandela's grandson, Zondwa, and Zuma's nephew Khulubuse.

Aurora has made a bid to buy the struggling mine, but has battled to secure funding.

Sabatana's mother, Sophie Mashile, 61, recalls how "Grootvlei was right" in the old days, compared to today, where she and Johannes and her ailing husband survive on "tyre money" – her son gets 50 cents for every tyre he rolls from the mine into town.

But now the "white guy" who was buying the tyres has told him he did not need any more tyres.

Sabatana says he sat outside their hostel on the run-down mine property this week, trying to figure out new ways to get money.

Turn to crime

"You know what I was thinking? I was thinking, where can I get a firearm," he says, twirling his hair nervously with his finger.

"I'm thinking to be a criminal because I am so desperate," says Sabatana, as his mother looks on with a disapproving frown.

Sitting on a worn couch in a small, dusky living room, he points to a white plastic bucket in the kitchen area.

"See that? That is our toilet. In the kitchen," he says grimly.

"My mother is old; she can't take the bucket out when I'm not here."

He struggles to find words to express his anger, which he directs at Mandela's grandson and Zuma's nephew, both of whom are directors of Aurora.

What would he want to say to them?

Too hungry

"I am too much angry."

He hesitates, then throws his hands in the air.

"There is no money, no fokol," he says in a bitter voice, as his heavy-set mother lets out a sigh.

"Have you ever been without food for five days?" he asks, before falling silent.

Sabatana looks up again when the Sapa photographer takes pictures of him.

"Will you bring me the picture of myself," he asks. "I've never had a picture of myself."

National Union of Mineworkers branch chairperson, Frasy Namanyana, 37, who has worked on the mine since 1996, says some survive on sporadically donated food parcels.

"There is no water. Sanitation we can't speak about," says Namanyana, who was getting ready to address the miners in the overgrown amphitheatre to brief them on the status of their provident fund payments.

Neglected mine premises

Miners strolled from their hostels onto the neglected mine premises, where the clinic, shop and mining offices are all closed.

Most walked past a lone entrepreneur, who had set up a makeshift table with a cardboard box, trying to sell sweets and cigarettes.

The veld is dotted with piles of rubbish, a broken soccer ball lies forgotten between litter, parts of the hostel's tin roof has collapsed, exposing cracked walls, one painted with the word "amor" in red.

The pale mine dump looms in the background, mining equipment stands unused.

Namanyana shakes his head as he watches the miners gather.

"We tried to call them (Mandela and Zuma), and asked them to come speak to the workers. They said, no, the workers will kill them.

"The wanted to apologise through us. We said we are not their messengers, we are not representing them. We are representing the workers," says Namanyana.

Destroying the Mandela name

"They are destroying the Mandela name."

He enters the amphitheatre where rows of miners wait to hear the latest news, some holding up umbrellas as protection from the sun.

The meeting opens with a prayer as the highveld wind ruffles through the trees.

"They just pray so that God can help, so that everything we say can come true," explains Namanyana.

He is the bringer of better news this time – there is a chance that the Provident Fund may pay out some money.

The miners have been through a tough time.

Pamodzi Gold mine ran into financial difficulties in 2008 already, and, since then, several funding possibilities had fallen through.

Earlier this year, Aurora, whose directors also include Zuma's lawyer, Michael Hulley, announced that it had secured enough funding to buy Pamodzi's Grootvlei and Orkney mines, which employed some 5 000 workers, from its liquidators.

Empty promises

But red tape and empty promises have left the miners unpaid for eight months now.

Sabatana's mother, Sophie, says conditions at the mine had changed dramatically over the years.

"Grootvlei was right," she says, holding her thumb up.

"It changed a lot. You see now, there's nothing here.

"There's no paint, they don't do nothing, there's no transport to take for the dustbins, there's nothing."

Where will she and her husband and her son go if the mine shuts down?

This is her home, she says.

Behind her on the wall hang pictures of her grandchildren in colourful frames.

Sabatana looks at the Sapa photographer.

"Will you really bring me that picture?" he asks again.