Marikana miners are often men with two homes - Business Day, 17th September 2012.

Sep 17, 2012
In his fortnightly column in Business Day, John Kane-Berman, CEO of the Institute, talks about the living conditions of miners.

Many years ago, as a journalist, I interviewed Cyril Ramaphosa as he was getting started at the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). When he told me he had at last been given access to mine compounds to enrol members I was so astonished that I said I would have to phone the mining companies to check. The mining industry had for so long been so terrified of black unions on the mines, that I couldn't believe it had now relented. But it had.

Compounds were dreadful. Men slept in three tiers with their clothes suspended from string across the ceiling. Lavatories had no seats or doors. Privacy was non-existent. Even the newer compounds were bleak. The worst feature was that black miners were unable to bring their families to live with them, even if they wanted to. When some of the mining houses sought permission from the National Party (NP) government to house more than the official quota of 3% of their black workers on a family basis, it was refused.

This restriction was integral to how the mine labour system worked, but it was not confined to mining. Nor was it an invention of the NP. Previous governments had also sought to confine the number of blacks in the supposedly white areas to the minimum needed by white employers. Families were among those regarded as "superfluous appendages".

So it was an important day when PW Botha repealed the influx control laws in 1986. But the century-old migratory labour system had become so entrenched that it could not also be abolished overnight. Though few of Lonmin's employees now live in mine compounds, most of those killed at Marikana still qualified as migrants in that their homes were in the Eastern Cape, Lesotho, and other distant parts of the country, rather than at the mine itself. Possibly as many as a third of Africans in South Africa have second homes away from where they work.

How to house employees outside the old compound system is one of the issues confronting companies such Lonmin. The company says it has built 1 149 houses and converted 60 hostel blocks into single and family units as part of its goal to build 5 500 houses and convert 128 hostel blocks by 2014.

Some employees, however, opt to take the R1 850 living-out allowance instead of being accommodated on mine property. Many obviously limit their own consumption to send money to families in rural areas, where such remittances are a major source of income.
An analysis of pen portraits in City Press of those killed at Marikana shows that they were supporting at least 46 people other than their own wives and children, mostly via remittances.

Yet Susan Shabangu, the minister of mineral resources, says "labour sending areas are largely not benefiting from the mining industry". This was untrue even under apartheid. Shabangu also attacked the "fetid living conditions most miners are subjected to". She further denigrated the "negligible social investment in communities proximal to mines".

Others have weighed in too. "Mines need to provide housing. This out-of-sight out-of-mind approach creates conditions for wildcat action," says Kgalema Motlanthe, the deputy president.

But exactly where does the company's responsibility end? A third of households in the Bojanala Platinum district municipality live in informal dwellings, and 39% have no municipal refuse removal. North West is one of the worst-run provinces in the country. Some of the demands made of the industry by politicians, journalists, and non-governmental organisations sound as if they think it should be taking over some of the functions of local government, or even of the minister of human settlements, who is supposedly responsible for

And if the mines are to be responsible for providing housing, where would it be? On the mine, nearby, or in the Eastern Cape and Lesotho? The living-out allowance is probably the only realistic option, for it allows choice, including the choice of living in a shack so as to support dependants elsewhere.

- John Kane-Berman

This article was first published in the Business Day.

Support the IRR

If you want to see a free, non-racial, and prosperous South Africa, we’re on your side.

If you believe that our country can overcome its challenges with the right policies and decisions, we’re on your side.

Join our growing movement of like-minded, freedom-loving South Africans today and help us make a real difference.

© 2023 South African Institute of Race Relations | CMS Website by Juizi