Little changed for Marikana mine staff four years on

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Lonmin CEO Ben Magara. Picture: Mary-Ann Palmer
Lonmin CEO Ben Magara. Picture: Mary-Ann Palmer

Four years after 34 mine workers perished in a hail of police bullets at Marikana near Rustenburg, North West, nothing has changed in the lives of mine employees, according to human rights organisation Amnesty International.

A report released this week to coincide with the commemoration of the massacre blames the world’s third-largest platinum producer for failing to provide sufficient formal housing for its employees, who continue to live in “appalling” conditions.

To some extent, the report mirrored the findings by the Marikana Commission of Inquiry into the August 2012 violent strike, stating in its report that Lonmin had “created an environment conducive to the creation of tension and labour unrest by failing to comply with the housing obligations undertaken by its two subsidiaries in the social and labour plans (SLP), on the strength of which it obtained new-order mining rights”.

Responding to this, Lonmin said it “did not meet its initial SLP housing targets” owing to a number of factors, including “a sudden and dramatic decline in the platinum price at the time of the global economic downturn, which severely impacted revenue”.

The company acknowledged that only a fraction of its more than 20 000 employees were living in 3 000 old hostels that had been converted into family and single units with modern amenities, including showers.

Amnesty International said Lonmin made it clear that it had no intention of building the 5 500 houses promised under its 2006 SLP.

In its response to the report, Lonmin said the challenge was huge and housing matters were not an undertaking that any mining company could successfully do on its own.

The company said as part of its SLP, “all 128 of our hostel blocks have been converted to single or family accommodation at a total cumulative cost of R387 million”, and it was building more apartments for its employees.

However, during wage strikes, many mine workers had opted to stay in informal settlements where they claimed they would build their own shacks or rent one.

This helped them access the mine’s “living-out allowance”, which they said complemented their “low” salaries.

Lonmin also has plans to build subsidised houses for its employees, but with about 50% of mine workers being migrant labourers, they would not wish to own houses far from their original homes. As a result, they continue living in shacks.

Lonmin CEO Ben Magara this week acknowledged the housing challenges, saying the company was “trying”. “We are doing our best to improve the [workers’] conditions,” he said.

Lonmin spokesperson Sue Vey said the company had in 2013 donated “50 hectares of serviced land with an estimated value of R80 million [for a government housing project] and also provided technical support. The first phase of this partnership project was completed earlier this year, yielding 252 rental units and 292 RDP houses.”

When they were told that they were earning too much to qualify for RDP houses, some mine workers took to invading the houses. Criminal cases have been opened and were under way in courts.

North West local government spokesperson Ben Bole said: “Thus far, 28 rightful beneficiaries have occupied the [RDP houses] and 264 [RDP houses] have been illegally invaded. The court has granted illegal invaders two months to vacate the houses.

“Rental stock is not yet occupied as rental rates are still under discussion. Government also has plans to develop the area and ensure that qualifying beneficiaries benefit on different housing programmes, including mine workers,” he added.

Meanwhile, majority union at Lonmin, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, has already tabled a demand of R5 000 as living-out allowance and the same for a housing allowance for its members.

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