It is an age-old story within the mining sector, an endless and overbearing concern of every miner who toils night and day in the underbelly of the earth, working for a living wage. In August 2009, 3 921 men employed by the joint-contract mining operations of Murray and Roberts Cementation (M&RC) and platinum miner, Aquarius Platinum South Africa (AQPSA), were fired after embarking on an unprotected strike. Yet their only real infraction had been one of misplaced trust – in the union they had relied on to negotiate wage increases and better working conditions. The National Union of Mine Workers had reassured the men they had acquired a certificate to strike from the CCMA after initial discussions with mine management had failed. In reality, says Edward Sekoboto, a representative of the group, the union had signed a wage agreement with management without consulting its members – a blatant act of misrepresentation. Mine management pleaded with the men to return to work, but they stood their ground under the mistaken impression that the strike was legal, unaware their jobs were at risk. On the fourth day of the strike, a message was relayed to the mineworkers that they had been fired.
The following morning, outside the gates, the men gathered in the hope that all was not lost and their jobs would be spared. Certain select individuals were allowed to return to work. But 1 004 of the men were left unemployed. Evicted from the mine hostel within days of the strike, they were briefly housed in tents by the Rustenburg municipality before being relocated to the Circle Labour Hostel in Kroondal, where they subsist under appalling conditions. “Some go in search of food, only returning several months later,” says Edward. “There have been 189 men who have passed away living here. All diseases exist – since 2009 there is no one here who has seen a doctor.”
Edward and the 168 others that remain at the Circle Labour Hostel hold on in the hope that their voice will be heard. “We are waiting for our case to be finalised at the Constitutional Court, we all know – all of us including NUM and mine management – that the dismissal was unfair.” Meanwhile, conditions continue to deteriorate. Tuberculosis is rife; bodies lie weak and frail, unmedicated and hungry. Reliant on handouts, they have resorted to eating just about anything they can find in order to survive – including rodents and wild spinach. Gradually, the men of Circle Labour Hostel are losing hope.
Molebotsi Mokoena, 46, Machine Operator from Lesotho, Circle Labour Hostel, Kroondal, North West, Western Limb
Various case numbers relating to the misrepresentation of several thousand mine workers in 2009.
Circle Labour Hostel, Kroondal, North West, Western Limb