AfroTravel The Bench Marks Foundation argued that the benefits of mining were not reaching the workers or the surrounding communities due lack of employment opportunities for local youth, squalid living conditions, unemployment and growing inequalities. It claimed the workers were exploited and this was a motivation for the strike, which in turn led to the violence. It also criticized the high profits when compared with the low wages of the workers. The International Labor Organization criticized the condition of the miners being exposed to a variety of safety hazards such as falling rocks, exposure to dust, intensive noise, fumes and high temperatures, among others. The Trade and Industry Minister described the conditions in the mines as appalling with owners profiting off the backs of the low-paid and ill-treated miners. The conditions in the mine led to seething tensions as a result of dire living conditions, union rivalry, and company disinterest. This led to the rock drillers initiating a strike in pursuit of a pay raise from $500 to $1500 per month. According to Jeffrey Matunjwa of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, the protests were in response to poor pay. He stated bosses and senior management inherited fat checks while the workers were subjected to poverty for life. Even after eighteen years of democracy, the mineworkers still earned approximately $360 per month under the harsh conditions underground. On the afternoon of August 16th 2012, members of a contingent of the South African Police Service opened fire on the group of strikers - killing some and wounding many. The incident was the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since the Sharpeville Massacre during the apartheid era. That clash was a grim watershed for South Africa's teenage democracy; coming eighteen years after Nelson Mandela took over as the first post-apartheid president.

"…The Trade and Industry Minister described the conditions in the mines as appalling with owners profiting of the backs of the low paid and ill treated miners…"

The Impact

The nation recoiled at the killings, while companies such as Lonmin - a mining company and producer of platinum group materials - ultimately gave its workers raises of up to twenty-two percent. Those (insufficient?) raises, as well as shock at the killings, caused other workers at mines down this road to walk off the job. Mining drives the economy of South Africa, which remains one of the world's dominant producers of platinum, gold and chromium. Since the strikes began, world platinum prices have risen about $200 an ounce to almost $1,600. In September 2012, President Jacob Zuma said the strikes already had cost the nation nearly $563 million. Much of the platinum sector is battling with low demand, though the price for the metal used for emissions-capping catalytic converters in cars has risen thirteen percent this year mostly because of supply concerns stemming from the strikes in the country that is home to eighty percent of known reserves. According to Refiner Johnson Matthey Plc., global platinum supply will hit an eleven year low in 2012, largely because of the strikes' impact on production, and demand outstripping available stocks. AngloGold Ashanti, the world's third largest producer of gold is to be one of the mining houses most affected by the strikes, announced its cut of its capital expenditure by $318 for the year.


The Aftermath

In the last three months, it has become a common scene in South Africa: wildcat strikers facing off with police in the shanty towns that ring its platinum mines, leaving the dusty streets strewn with rocks, burning tires and shot-gun cartridges. Besides latent and predictable anger at the bosses of the giant mining companies, much of the aggression is aimed at the government and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), a worrying portent for labor relations in Africa's biggest economy. The NUM is a key ally of the ruling African National Congress, and its rapid fall from grace among many miners has implications for the way South Africa is run. Although the ANC's domination of post-apartheid South Africa is not likely to be shaken any time soon, a discredited NUM strengthens more militant unions in the governing alliance with Nelson Mandela's former liberation movement, already riven by conflicting allegiances to labor and big business. In the years after apartheid, the NUM - a three hundred thousand-strong union enjoyed elevated status as a central player in the successful struggle against the minority rule that ended in 1994. The killings of the miners beamed around the world, unleashing a barrage of questions from investors about the implications for South African labor relations. Within a month, more than seventy-five thousand miners had downed tools across the sector. At Impala, the company says the NUM's representation has shrivelled from seventy percent to just thirteen percent in seven months- figures that are disputed as unconfirmed. The unrest has also added to political pressure on the government to force mining firms to spend more on communities, including a suggestion by Zuma that they could lose their licenses if they fail to comply. However, so far the official reaction has mainly been to brush the trouble under the carpet with a positive spin designed to assuage rattled investors.


"…the unrest has also added to political pressure on the government to force mining firms to spend more on communities…"

As nearly all the fifteen thousand miners who have long faced low salaries and poor living conditions in shantytowns often beset with ongoing struggles, return to work following news that AngloGold and other gold companies had agreed to wage increases, uncertainty still looms. The unrest has shaken South Africa, a nation now free from past-era laws, but not of its legacy of economic disparities. And though the first time in weeks, the grip of the strikes appear to have loosened, the mood calm rather than volatile as the workers release sighs of relief, the damage done to South Africa's anaemic economy and mining industry could last even longer. However, it is left to be seen the impact of the Marikana crisis; and how much South Africa can sustain it in years to come.

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