An ongoing Whatsapp-exchange with Thapelo Lekgowa, a Rustenburg-based author and freelance journalist about the impact of the Corona-Lockdown on mining communities at the Platinum Belt
6 April 2020
Plough Back The Fruits: What happened in Marikana after president Ramaphosa announced the nation-wide lockdown on 23 March 2020?
Thapelo Lekgowa: 90% of mine workers left their respective work residence areas and travelled to various homelands across South Africa and in some neighboring countries.
Most mines including Sibanye Platinum which now employs many of Marikana Widows had just started Covid19 Awareness through video material which was played at waiting stations and in some other parts of the mine. The problem for many with the videos was the language, videos were in English which many mine workers are not fluent at. Many had expected they would be screened or tested but the lockdown was announced before any such could be done. Since many of the mine workers travelled to their homelands it simply means many of them are not aware of their status at this stage and most have not been screened or tested.
We know very well though that mine workers suffer from many chronic diseases that might put them at higher risk in a case they are to be tested positive for the virus.
Plough Back The Fruits: What short-term and long-term impacts for the mineworkers and their communities are to be expected:
Many of them are going to feel the pain of 21 days in the next coming months as all will be normalized, many mine workers will still be trying to close the gap of money they lost.
Mine workers boost their income through bonuses and performance incentives they get at the mines, their life-styles are already adjusted as high scale earners (standards vary). For the month of April this means many will earn far below what they are used to, without a doubt many will apply for repayment breaks offered by the banks for anything between 3 to 6 months depending on the banking institution, even though on a break interests will still accumulate as the banks made already very clear. This will mean many mine workers months from now will feel their salaries are not enough
Already many are arguing why is that most mines do not have disaster insurance or they have it but covers in their losses as mines and not in wages. Many workers are already of a view that the union should negotiate that their salaries do not change so their lives are not affected. Upon return to work intense negotiations are to begin in order to work out how the two parties meet each other half way.
14 April 2020
Plough Back The Fruits: What news do you have?
Many mine workers made their way back to various mines across South Africa. Here are some images from Impala Platinum´s Rustenburg operation. 14 April 2020 early morning Impala Platinum reporting for duty. Met by a heavy SAPS presence. No social distancing practiced (Source of images unknown worker):
Also: I we look at posters that have been put up by mines with a set of guidelines for the employees how to behave at work under the given circumstances one clearly sees that most guidelines are not likely to be complied with. Apart from the fact that the distances to be taken vary from 1 to 2 meters one must understand that working underground is already tough without a mask on mouth and nose and that the work and the workplaces make it almost impossible to adhere to the rules. This short video shows an example of workers waiting at a bus stop for transportation to work:
21 April 2020
AMCU (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Unit) takes DMR (Ministry/Department of Mineral Ressources and Energy) to court over COVID-19 work Regulations (21 April 2020)
Interview on ENCA with Joseph Mathunjwa: https://amcu.co.za/articles/videos/interview-2020/
22 April 2020
Plough Back The Fruits: Do you have news from Marikana? And can you say anything about the situation of food and water security in the informal settlements?
Workers and community members in Nkaneng near Rowland Shaft of Sibanye Stillwater Platinum (former Lonmin) have had issues with accessing water which has forced many of them to collect water from the nearby mine hostel using wheelbarrows and 20litre plastic containers.
So far, no state relief food parcels have reached Marikana especially informal settlements surrounding Sibanye mine shafts. No mine has given any form of support to workers or nearby communities with food or sanitizers outside the mine.
The informal settlements happen to have large numbers of foreign nationals who at this time are not allowed to make any income and do not qualify for any emergency relief. All this foreign nationals are indirectly employees of the mines through different construction companies.
23 April 2020
Plough Back The Fruits: We hear there are new directives from the government?
The Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe issued permits to mines to operate at a 50% capacity followed by a set of guidelines:
As we heard throughout the last days trade unions and workers themselves have said the guidelines are not strong enough and there is little to no assurance that mines will adhere to the guidelines.
The following sentences are quoted from a statement of an anonymous union leader:
“Mines cannot be trusted, in my history of working at the mine I have seen a number of accidents and at no point has the mine taken blame for the accidents/fatality. It has always been fault of the workers. What do you think if they find any worker infected with Covid19? They will not make public or even present it to the state. Often bodies of dead people will have left shafts before contractors or DMR even knowing”.
24 April 2020
The day started with the information that mineworkers at Impala Platinum went on strike.
They are contractors of service provider MMM (hiring workers to Impala). At 20 shafts they are on strike refusing to back underground. They want full salaries before they start work.