Letters – Working conditions on South African mines

by Jul 11, 2012Magazine

Working conditions on South African mines
Dear Amandla!
There is an urgent need for intervention in the way in which mine workers continue to operate in South Africa, despite the presence of unions. The three existing unions seem to grapple with the nature of their orientation, history and/ or the material condition of this country, which breeds corruption in the leadership of workers and thereby creates an “everyone for himself and God for us all” scenario.
Two of these unions, Solidarity and UWASA, are historically white unions and do not enjoy the support of the majority of miners. In pursuance of their objective, they seem to manage rather than to root out the problematic issues, such as labour broking. The majority union, NUM, on the other hand, seems to enjoy support of the majority of the workers in the mines. They use this popularity to either push their way through the political terrain, i.e. the ANC, and consequently the government, or find their way up the company. Few names come to picture: Cyril Ramaphosa, James Motlatsi, Kgalema Motlanthe, Gwede Mantashe and the list is endless.
James Motlatsi (the 1st president of NUM) was elevated into chairmanship of the board of Anglo Gold Mines and the major share-holder of TEBA Bank (now U Bank), which is the financial institution created to service the mine employees. The other 3 mentioned above are heavyweights in government and/or the ruling party. Comrades at shopfloor level find themselves having difficulties to challenge “seniors” in either sphere.
Those in the boardroom concentrate on who is employed, who is promoted to what level of the company, and who is to be sacrificed, either through retrenchment and/or dismissal. Most of the time, they conspire amongst themselves or fellow workers.
When it suits them they are the best of communists and when it doesn’t they are the darlings to their masters ­ the employers. It is therefore very difficult for a “foreign union” to come to the party. Other unions have for some time tried to organise the workers into an “alternative force” and were thrashed by the system. The Labour Relations Act requires that a union needs to have at least a certain percentage (say 30%) of the total workforce to be recognized. But by the time the union has about 50 workers registered, members are already victimised and cannot be protected by the union pending their gaining recognition as per the act or agreement at shopfloor level. This dents the credibility of the new union, and when members go back to NUM, all their predicaments then vanish. The phenomenon described above leads to fear among workers to openly challenge the “comrades”. Corruption, nepotism and all forms of unfair practice and/or favouritism go unabated and unchallenged.
“Comrades” ask for bribes and/or sexual favours to enable one to get either employed or promoted as they are `the way, the truth and the light’. Workers are forced by mine bosses to work under appalling conditions safety wise; they are rushed to finish the job within unwritten targets. Injuries and/or deaths resulting from these activities are then not accounted for by company but by the victim. Refusing to comply is also not an option as one would open him/herself to victimisation that can lead to losing a job.
When workers die or are retrenched or dismissed, they get to claim their benefits, especially the provident fund. In the worst case scenario people wait for 2 years. Again, NUM is a major shareholder in the scheme. A number of former mine employees are in dire poverty, not through their own fault but through circumstances beyond their control.
The undeniable contributions made by NUM in particular in the struggle for more humane working conditions under the horrendous and vicious system of the bloodsucking, draconian regime, may be compromised by an over indulgence and ambitions outside of their scope i.e. the party-political issues and/or “management of companies”. Concentrating on the residence, health, and general working conditions of their constituency is without a doubt going to return the worker power
in the mines and fast track the long awaited transformation.

A bit of poetry
Remember the procession of the  old-young men
From dole queue to corner and back again,
From the pinched, packed streets to the peak of slag
In the bite of winters with shovel and bag
With a dropping fag and a turned up collar,
Stamping for the cold at the ill lit  corner
Dragging through the squalor with  their hearts like lead
Staring at the hunger and the shut pit-head Nothing in their pockets, nothing home to eat.
Lagging from the slag heap to the pinched, packed street.
Remember the procession of the  old-young men,
It shall never happen again’.
Dylan Thomas (1914­1953)
Extract written about Welsh mining hometown of Swansea during a period of mass unemployment.
Submitted by Andre and Botsotso Collective, Cape Town.

It’s the system, stupid!
Dear Amandla!
Both in the USA and amongst progressives in South Africa, there is a sense of disappointment with President Barack Obama. In Cape Town a number of organisations have issued a statement against the City of Cape Town granting Michelle and Barack Obama the freedom of Cape Town.
There is no reason to be disappointed or outraged! Can we really believe that Obama could have become president of the United States if the colour of his politics had been but a shade of red? Barack was handpicked by the big boys to restore a measure of credibility to American strategy after the Bush years. This was also part of the reason for him being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize before he even had shown his peaceful intentions. Didn’t he say himself that he didn’t deserve it at the time!
I believe those who had expectations that Obama would bring about change were naive and easily fooled. Cornel West puts his trust in Obama by looking at the man’s skin color rather than the color of his politics!
Obama’s stewardship of the White House has strengthened the proto-fascist right wing of the system while weakening progressive forces. It would be sad indeed if the latter would work to have him reelected for a second four-year term. That would just postpone the day of reckoning and prevent the emergence of a third party or movement.
As the saying goes: Shame on you, you fooled me once. Shame on me, you fooled me twice! American politics is the domain of a corrupt political and economic power elite that is perpetuating a structure of capitalism which progressives should not have any illusions about. The veneer of democracy is just that. It is not the man but the system which has to be replaced. Those who forget it will go on being disappointed and neutralized.
The task is to turn outrage into energy, as Che once put it!
Jacques Hersh

You may not like politics but politics loves you!!!
Dear Amandla!
How many Times have you heard someone saying “I do not like politics” and what do you think about it? Well, for me politics is a way of life and it dwells inside you. Politics is not a dance club where you go only when you feel like partying.
Politics is “the way people gain, maintain and lose power” I always think , “power dynamics” will describe politics better than any other concept, and power dynamics is everywhere ­ at home (in the kitchen, in the living room, in the bedroom) at work (the relationship between the boss and the ordinary employees as well as the relationship between the employees and the clients/customers) and, of course, in national and global politics. Are you still immune to politics?
I think most of us think politics has to do only with where we stand in the politics of our respective countries. Let me focus on that for now. I would like to challenge these people because there is no way you can be an island in the politics of your country because, whether you like it or not, your apathy (not taking part in politics) or your empathy (trying to help your people to get out of the mess they are in) is still politics. Some argue that “whether you vote or not you are still exercising your political rights” and whatever decision you make has its own political consequences.
I think the claim `I don’t want to involve myself in politics anymore’ is a very diplomatic way of saying:
  • I am benefitting from the system I am in and thus I don’t want to go against it no matter how much I oppose it (maintaining the status quo)
  • Being active in politics is taking too much of my energy and let me withdraw from it (even though I am sure your conscience will not let you stay out of politics, especially when the political and/ or economic rights of your people or even yourself have been violated).
  • I am scared to be active in politics because the opposing party/parties may attack me.
So next time, when someone is telling you, s/he doesn’t want to involve her/ himself in politics, make sure you read between the lines and say: oh pleaseeeeee! because no-one can keep a distance from politics.
Tesfagabir Berhe Tesfu (George), Durban, South Africa

No freedom under capitalism
Dear Amandla!
Thank you for This opportunity To share my view on the art work of the Goodman Gallery.
For me, it is a problem to say that you have to control the way people do art. For that matter, when people draw naked women, no one has a problem with it but when we paint a politician, there is a problem and the ANC talks. Everything that affects the ANC is an issue. On the other side, the value of women means nothing under capitalism and when certain artists express their art they have to be taken to court.
When Zuma was charged for rape and it was taken up by a cartoonist, the same ANC wasted a lot of money on demonstrations that supported Zuma. For this reason, I think that artists will never be given their creative space and a chance to be critical of the ruling party. Moreover, artists are trapped in this society of capitalism, and the ANC is a Stalinist party that will oppose any critical ideas. We need to use all forms of art, to make it clear that there will be no freedom under capitalism. We need to bear in mind that the ANC wants to control the media. My point is that leaders have been drawn like this in many parts of the world, why is it an issue in South Africa?
Now that the ANC is failing to deliver, they know that people can wake up at any time. We should be clear about the role of political parties and their neo-liberal agenda. The ANC is making the portrait a racist attack on black culture. On the other hand, ANC wants to remain in power for as long as there are tenders. This is not about culture, it is about mobilising the poor on the side of ANC. The ANC is worried because they see that the DA is pulling crowds because of their corruption and inability to govern. Let’s focus on the real problems.
Viva Amandla!
Bells, Khayelitsha
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