As a group of 259 mine workers packed into trucks inside a courtyard yesterday, there was a chorus of wailing from a group of women.
Their cries carried the pain of what happened to their loved ones at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in North West on Thursday. Thirty-four miners lost their lives following a stand-off with the police. While the country mourns and vows “never again”, it is time to look deeper into how mines operate in this country.
Almost all the communities around mines have experienced a deterioration in living conditions.
According to 2011 research by the Bench Marks Foundation, an independent, faith-based organisation monitoring corporate social responsibility, conditions under which Lonmin employees live are appalling. While the mine has made achievements by investing in education facilities in the area, and improving its operations, hundreds of its employees continue to face real challenges.
According to the foundation’s report, lives and infrastructure in the communities linked to the mine were deteriorating. Lack of housing led to expansion of informal settlements, and this had an impact on the quality of life in the area.
The Bojanala District, which relies on mines for revenue, is unable to handle the increasing number of job-seekers who flock to the area. With a suspected labour-brokering system that operates under the guise of “contract workers”, there has been a boom in informal settlements.
Farmers in the area claim they are being squeezed off the land.
With a proposed inquiry by government on what led to the strike and the deaths of the miners last week, an inclusive investigation will bring about a solution that might enable the prevention of such tragedies in other mining communities.
Mining profits should not only go to owners and investors. They must trickle down to the surrounding communities. Better living conditions are a right enshrined in our constitution, and mines cannot ignore their responsibility.