Interview with Bench Marks Foundation chief researcher David van Wyk

by Sep 13, 2012Magazine

interview-with-bench-marksAmandla (A!): Some labour experts insist that the platinum mines, which you call the wealthiest in the world, cannot accede to miners’ wage demands and pay for corporations’ social responsibility to affected communities. To what extent is labour broking affecting wages and community empowerment? The official figures shows about a third of workers are labour broker recruits, but you seem to find that it may be higher.

David van Wyk (DvW): take Aquarius mine (nearby Marikana) for example: of 11 000 workers, 10 000 are actually subcontracted. Aquarius hired all the subcontractors last year in one go. Now local people can’t get jobs on the mines; there’s lots of huge unemployment in the area, and they are told they don’t have maths and science at matric. But the subcontracted workers are illiterate, 40 percent illiteracy in most mines. This creates tension already. And the reason why this happens is because the mining companies don’t want to train local people to work on the mines because they want to get to productivity and profitability as quickly as possible. So they actually have a mobile labour force [through] these labour brokers that can be moved anywhere in the country where they open up the mine. So instead of training local people and empowering local people, they shift the labour all over the country through the labour brokers.

A!: What are the consequences for the community?

DVW: this creates all kinds of social problems: it creates problems with xenophobia; it creates problems of domestic violence and things like that. It impacts on HIV/Aids in communities, with the rate of infection at Marikana double the national average, and so on. The Mining Charter now requires that 12 percent of the labour force must be

women. So they employ the women from the local community, but they don’t employ the men; they bring the men in as the experienced labour from elsewhere so that they can get to productivity as quickly as possible. That then creates conflict in the home because the men can’t get any jobs. It ends up very badly for women because the rock-drill operators can make bonuses and they can push up their salary close to the R12 500 that they’re demanding now. The women can’t and then the women at month end, they try to get some of that money by actually trading in sex underground. I spoke to personnel managers who tell me that towards month end underground, you have to watch where you step because you might step on condoms.

Then, the thing about maths and science is a complete lie. And communities are aware of it; they’re not stupid. In November last year they forced a mine to meet with the community monthly; they put up roadblocks for about a week and they’ve insisted that 27 percent of workers must be local. And they check the employment records now every month to make sure that local people are actually employed.

Labour broking is a massive problem.

A!: And the wage demands?

DVW: The other problem is in relation to the guys who do blasting, who can get the bonuses. The reason why they demand R 12 500 as a fixed salary is because the bonuses actually endanger them. They’re chasing bonuses and so when the safety officer says conditions are unsafe to blast here today, we must first make the place safe – the other workers actually gang up on him and they report him to the management as being someone who’s undermining productivity, because they want the bonus; they want to get as much money as possible every month.

Now if you give them a fixed salary then they won’t be chasing bonuses; the safety standards in the mines would actually go up.

A!: The government has sent in traditional leaders to mediate in the conflict. But I understand the chiefs play a significant role in strengthening mine-owners’ hands when they recruit labour?

DVW: Yes, yes. This thing has been operable since the nineteenth century. Paul Kruger started the habit of getting chiefs to recruit labour for his farm in the Rustenburg area. And it’s common in Mozambique and in Zimbabwe, and even here; they use the chiefs as recruitment officers. An Angloplats personnel manager told me that they’re using local councillors and chiefs as recruitment officers. A woman who tells me that she went for five interviews and at each interview she was asked for sex and at each interview she refused and every time she didn’t get the job. [It’s like] what they said about post-colonial Kenya, that ‘contracts are signed on the thighs of women’.

A!: In your latest report on platinum mining you recommend tighter conflict of interest legislation. What percentage of a local community benefit vis-à-vis the political elite?

DVW: I don’t think communities benefit at all. Mines create one company into which they put trust funds, and the communities are never called into meetings around these things. Communities don’t know what their shares in these things are. The trust funds themselves are loaded by company officials, and they take decisions about what to do without consulting … [their] projects really have no impact and really make no change to the conditions under which people are living. You asked to what extent the mines have a social responsibility. To get a mining licence you must have a social and labour plan.

And your social plan should be negotiated with the community. But it is impossible to get hold of the social plans; you are almost forced to stand under police guard in the City Council offices to look at this thing, and you’re not allowed to copy it oranything, you are confronted with a 600 page document, and community people can’t get access. And these documents were not constructed with them participating because most of these documents are desktop exercises done in Sandton by consultants who make millions out of it.

A!: Basically you’re seeing a violation of labour, environment and social legislation across the board on the platinum minefields?

DVW: That’s right. Compiling this report, we involved the community in the research process itself. And the corporations come back to us saying your report is full of inaccuracies. But we tell them, ‘This is the voice of community; this is how they experience you. We cannot change what they tell us, this is their voice, this is how they experience you. If they experience you negatively then deal with it; find out why is it that they experience you so negatively and deal with the issues’. Look, the whole thing of Lonmin and Cyril Ramaphosa [director] is right in the middle of the fireworks here. At Aquarius mine, the Sisulus and the Mandelas are right in the middle of the thing; Anglo

Platinum, its Vali Moosa. They have captured the state effectively, captured the ruling party, the mining companies. And they have polluted it – you know, so mine pollution is not just about water, it’s not just about air pollution, it’s also about the political pollution of our democracy.

A!: The government is refusing to acknowledge that this is one of the systemic problems that gave rise to the Marikana massacre.

DVW: No, they’re very embarrassed. I think that the government and the ruling party have been caught with their pants down. And it’s such a great pity because it used to be an organisation that was very in touch with the population – but its lost all touch with the population altogether. With the Marikana crisis going for two weeks, not a single person from the provincial government got of their offices into their fancy cars and into the community to go and try and find out what’s going on.

A!: There’s been a pattern of local police being sent in to reinforce the mining companies’ own security.

DVW: Yes. Look, because the mining companies now have all the political heavyweights on their boards or shareholders or whatever, they think that the police force is their private security company. And so I feel very sorry for the policemen, I don’t blame them. They are put in a very difficult situation where they have to protect private capital as if they are the private security company of the mine.

A!: Are the same problems evident in other mining sectors?

DVW: We’re just about to conclude a big study on coal. And, boy oh, boy, huge problems. Gold mining, the same issue. And the interesting thing and we mention it in the study, you should look it, I visited Ngezi and Mimosa mine in Zimbabwe, that belongs to Impala, Platinum and Aquarius. They’ve got proper health and safety standards.

They’ve got no subcontracting; they’ve got no labour brokers. They built proper family houses for their employees and they are highly productive mines. And they don’t have strikes, they don’t have unrest, they don’t have conflict. And they’ve got 100 percent literacy on those mines.

A!: Are the Zimbabwean elite not sitting on their boards?

DVW: It’s not who’s sitting on their boards. Who are they scared of? That’s the question. And I can tell you they’re scared of the Zimbabwean government, so they do everything by the book in Zimbabwe. Here they’re not scared of anyone because they’ve got all the politicians in their pocket. Look, I am not saying that Zimbabwe is a wonderful place; their diamond mining is in complete chaos because you’ve got all the politicians involved. The state should regulate, enforce the law.

A!: We are sitting on 86 percent of the world’s platinum. Is it really necessary to give it away quickly and under these conditions?

DVW: That is the other issue: there’s a huge externalisation of the costs of mining. We have to pay for it; the tax-payer is having to pay for the acid drainage mess in Johannesburg, in Carolina. We have to pay for the mess which I think might probably even exceed the value of the resource if we carefully calculate the externalised costs. [Mining corporations] are getting away with minimal accountability. And we are not benefiting our economy.

A!: Is there a need for a special enquiry into labour brokering practices on the mines?

DVW: There’s an important issue here. And for me, as an old communist, it’s very difficult to admit this – but under apartheid labour brokering was not allowed. So why is it allowed now? And we see at Aquarius mine, out of 11 000 workers, 10 000 are subcontracted workers – and that is the mine that has very heavy political influence from the Sisulus and Mandelas, and also the Malibongwe Women’s Trust, and so on. Now why is the ANC so resistant to act on this issue of labour brokering? Is it because they are making money from it? They have reduced the cost of mine labour even further. This cheap labour economy that we’re having in this country is not sustainable; the gap between rich and poor is just growing wider and wider and it’s just going to explode. But it seems like people are only concerned about profit.

A!: So you think that the mines can afford to pay a lot more?

DVW: If you increase the cost of mining towards society and towards workers – workers will become more productive. How can you be a productive worker if you’re living in a tin shack and you don’t have access to electricity and you don’t have access to clean water? It is cooking in summer and its freezing cold in winter. And the corporate sector is not a patriotic sector because it’s largely foreign owned. So they have no interest in the living conditions of South African people. They’re only interested in getting this metal out of the country as quickly as possible.

A!: During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission none of the mining companies took any responsibility for their role during apartheid. If you were the President, how would you have phrased this enquiry?

DVW: The commission of enquiry should be very broad, it should look at the industry as a whole. What happened at Marikana is symptomatic. Marikana can happen anywhere and at any moment. And then we should use the answers from that commission of enquiry to restructure that industry so that this thing can’t happen again.

A!: So we need a systemic enquiry?

DVW: Yes, it should be systemic. And it should be human-rights focused. And we should not worry about foreign investment, foreign investment, foreign investment. Zimbabwe indigenised the mining sector by demanding 51 percent ownership, etcetera. Did Anglo run, did Aquarius run? No, they didn’t run. They simply, meekly agreed. So we can actually be much stronger because we have 80 percent of this mineral. No one else has this mineral – between us and Zimbabwe, we control this mineral.

A!: Exactly, we can do an OPEC.

DVW: Yes, we can do an OPEC . We can set the conditions for investment. We don’t have to abide by their conditions.


The Bench Marks Foundation Report, 2012. Communities in the platinum minefields: Policy gap 6.

Share this article:


Latest issue

Amandla 90/91