Shoks Mnisi Mzolo – Cii News | 20 May 2014/20 Rajab 1435
The ongoing strike at the platinum belt, where organised labour downed tools more than 100 days ago, has again shone the spotlight on the mineworkers’ living conditions. Asks Media Review Network (MRN) spokesperson Ebrahim Vawda: what role has the multi-billion rand mining industry played to rescue workers from an oppressive apartheid-inspired capitalism?
“During the apartheid days they were living in hostels… in the 1970s, in the 1980s when we had migrant labourers coming and living in hostels – in and around the Johannesburg area,” Vawda recalled during an interview with Cii’s Sabahul Khair. He feels that miners perpetuate the plight of the workers and their families who still live in shacks pock marking areas such as Marikana. “What the mining companies have now done (is to) move them from hostels to shacks. Is that an improvement or is it a demotion? That’s the question they should be answering.”
Vawda finds it curious that the mainstream media applies double standards when it covers the dynamics at play. Not to give in to the politics of the long-running strike, due to “the intransigence of the capitalists in the mining belt”, a host of NGOs have joined forces to alleviate the plight of the desperately starving people at a real risk of falling sick or dying.
The NGOs involved include MRN, Muslim Lawyers’ Association, Palestine Solidarity Alliance, Muslim Students Association and Islamic Medical Association of South Africa. Also on board is the Al-Imdaad Foundation which is facilitating the collection and distribution of the aid. More organisations have since come on board. In its bid to give further assistance, by way of sustainable water provision, Cii Projects has pledged to donate a borehole for the Marikana workers.
To contextualise the impact of the stalemate, Vawda told Cii listeners that 500,000 South Africans – workers and families – have become destitute since the workers downed tools in January to demand a living wage. With the end not in sight things can only worsen and the situation is so dire that people can starve to death, he said. It’s a scenario Vawda, on behalf of the NGOs he represents, laments. He dismissed the industry’s stance, voiced in part by Lonmin spokesman Happy Nkomo that prioritised profits and paid its executive excessively but ignored the appalling living conditions and state of poverty synonymous with the labour force.
“Those mouths that are dependent on the wage-earner at Marikana, or on the platinum belt… are not interested in the rules and regulations of the labour laws. They are interested in getting food on their table. That old granny that needs to go to the clinic to collect monthly medicine needs taxi fares. Those children that go to school need school fees, they need clothing,” said Vawda, explaining that these are the type of issues that drove a list of NGOs to join hands and bring relief to the multitudes of South Africans in need. “We need to alleviate the plight.”
Gift of the Givers is already delivering food parcels to the thousands of workers at Marikana. In a statement issued today, organization chairperson Dr. Imtiaz Sooliman said there was an overwhelming response to their call to support the starving families on the mines. He indicated that relevant food items, new blankets, new clothing, sanitary pads and appropriate medicines should be delivered to 22 Orchard Rd, Crystal Gardens, Bramley, Johannesburg. Alternatively donors could contact 0800786911 for details of drop off points in Cape Town, Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg. Preferred food items include maize, rice, samp, beans, tinned foods, peanut butter, jam, soup, cereals, milk powder, instant noodles, sugar, tea, fresh bread, salt, oil, juices and fresh vegetables.
Sooliman said they were also considering sending medical teams to the area over the weekend. “General practitioners, primary health care nurses and paramedics, dietitians and practitioners from relevant disciplines are invited to submit their names to us.”
In the short term, the NGOs will extend to mineworkers across the entire platinum belt plan (stretching to Brits and Rustenburg) and over time attempt to extend help to their families in other parts of the country.
Asked why the civil sector is urging Muslims, and South Africans at large, to donate (in kind and cash) in order to help mineworkers when it’s they who are on strike instead of earning their money, Vawda explained that the point of departure was that the system was exploitative. That is what pushed the workers to demand R12,500 in the first place as far back as 2012. That is the same year in which the police massacred 34 mineworkers and wounded many others at Marikana when the state and Johannesburg and London-listed Lonmin bosses sought to quash labour’s cries for a living wage.
“Are we prepared to encourage exploitation? If we are saying that these people don’t deserve anything because they don’t want to work for their salaries then my response to that is ‘are we condoning exploitation or do we want to condemn it?’ If we want to condemn it then we must say to those (mineworkers) ‘we support your viewpoint, we support your stand’,” Vawda said of the importance of making solidarity donations to the mineworkers and families.