“No work, No pay,” Reality hits Marikana
One month into the deadly strike at South Africa’s Lonmin platinum mine the reality of “no work, no pay” is hitting hard in the humble shantytowns at the foot of the giant plant.
Debt repayments have been pushed aside. Shack rentals have gone unpaid. And Africa’s biggest disaster relief agency, renowned for its work in war zones like Somalia and Libya, is trucking in daily meals as hunger levels rise at the platinum mine.
“We are suffering now,” said Victoria Makasi (25), whose striking father’s pay was halved to R1500 at the end of last month.
Workers have refused to end their militant strike until the crippled mine buckles to wage demands, with their defiance underpinned by the police shooting dead 34 colleagues in the bloodiest crackdown since apartheid last month.
In the Makasi family’s humble two-roomed shack built out of corrugated metal sheets and shared by five people, the shelves of the gas-powered fridge are completely bare of food.
“I am very very worried for my family,” said Makasi.
The world’s number three platinum producer Lonmin has warned that an indefinite strike will threaten 40,000 jobs, yet most of its 28 000 Marikana workforce have snubbed calls to return to the shafts.
Instead, in the shacks opposite a rubbish-strewn field from the mine, the families of the workers fully backed their demands despite the pinch.
“We are starving,” said Nomandla Mteto after picking up a free meal of chicken stew and rice near the site of the police shooting.
Meals in the Mteto’s shack have been cut down to cabbage and thick cornmeal porridge since her husband’s pay was docked to just over R3000. Credit bills and R650 rent have gone unpaid this month.
Yet while she knows the real struggle will be at the end of this month if the strike is not called off, she fully backs the wildcat stayaway after the bloodiest police crackdown since the fall of apartheid in 1994.
“They deserve it. So if they go back to work now… they will feel like they betrayed them (the slain miners),” she said.
Disaster relief agency Gift of the Givers is providing R2-million worth of food, ladling out stew and rice from giant pots to thousands of people lining up near the shooting site.
It will remain there until the end of the week and plan to hand out food parcels, hoping that easing hunger will help lower tensions.
“Here there is hunger and people haven’t been fed for four weeks and hunger causes anger and we want to quell their anger, provide them (with) food and bring some calmness to the situation,” said agency founder Imtiaz Sooliman.
Usual credit channels have been closed off, with locals saying micro lenders are refusing loans as they know the workers are going without pay.
At a small general dealer amid the shacks, 21-year-old shop assistant Khomotso Mokitlane said business had dipped and people were not paying their debts.
“It’s so quiet. People, they don’t come because of the strike. They don’t have money,” she said.
“This month, they don’t pay,” she added, saying the store had stopped offering groceries on credit.
Striking worker Stumelo Mzingelwa’s salary cheque was whittled down from a net of R4000 to R600 – forcing his wife and baby to depend on his parents and no more cheese or cold drinks in his fridge.
But after witnessing the shooting, where he says police ran over people in armoured vans, he is adamant that he will not return without a pay hike.
“We want 12.5 (thousand rands) because our brothers are already dead. We can’t go back to work without this money,” he said.
With the shooting having become a battleground for political factions, he said people were angry with President Jacob Zuma who is battling for re-election in ruling party polls at year-end in Bloemfontein known as Mangaung.
“We are going to take him out in Mangaung, no matter what because you see this country, we have a democracy but it’s not a democracy any more – it’s demon-ocracy.”AFP