The plight of a mine worker: Will South Africa’s NUM compensate miners

South Africa continues to grapple with the plight of miners. Photo: South African miners strike.

KENYA, May 13, 2013 – The National United Mineworkers (NUM), the body mandated to foster the interests of miners, has moved to find a solution to the spate of pay raise wrangling which has rocked South Africa.

The world’s metal hub has seen continued dissatisfaction from disenchanted workers pushing for increased pay to match the skyrocketing cost of living.

Workers note the grim discrepancy between their paltry wages and the value of the vast mineral resources they extract.

Thanks to a pay raise following the deadly strikes at the Lonmin platinum mine last September, the highest paid miners in South Africa now earn about $1,000 per month. 

On average, a worker leaves on $600 per month in the country’s less expensive cities.

The wages are not sufficient for miners, especially considering the high cost of goods in South Africa. 

“It is too little for us for the kind of work we do. I plant dynamite, and there are hanging walls inside the mines. We can die anytime. We know the company makes a lot of money from the work we do,” says Ayanda Ndabeni, a 30-year-old mineworker at the Lonmin platinum mine.

Workers, dissatisfied with the NUM’s lukewarm support, have staged illegal strikes and demonstrations to demand higher pay.

Workers recently learned that mining giants Anglo Gold Ashanti and BHP Biliton made extensive payments to the NUM president and deputy, dating back to the 1980s, has further enraged workers and made them question the allegiance of the NUM.

In an effort to woo workers who have left the NUM for the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, the NUM is now lobbying for a double-digit pay raise for workers.

Archie Palane, a former NUM official, recently revealed the total intolerance of militant leaders at the union  by the body’s top management following the 1987 strike which saw the firing  James Motlatsi   the union’s leader at the time, by Anglo American.

“There was a strategy of either firing effective unionists or of hiring them into a managerial role. Then once there, they [would] lose touch with the workers,” Palane said.

Union management, apparently in collusion with company leaders, maneuvered to remove persistently vocal officials. 

The union  was accused of orchestrating the Marikana massacres last year, which left 34 dead. Two miners were shot when they started a march, intensifying the already bitter mood of demonstrators and turning the demonstration violent. Demonstrators armed with machetes stationed on Marikana Hill clashed with South African police, resulting in many dead and injured. 

Miners continue to stage strikes and are making expanded demands for even higher salaries. 

In addition to paying only meager salaries to employees, a recent report by the  Africa Progress Panel says that mining companies further hurt citizens by siphon billions of mining revenue through tax evasion. This hurts the countries where mines operate and unfairly boosts mining profits.   

The report released on May 10 by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary General, further reveals that Africa loses approximately $38 billion a year in tax avoidance by mining firms, which is twice as much as what Africa receives in aid.

The report notes that instead of benefiting Africa, the mineral endowments have widened the income gap, as a few elites benefit from the mines, to the detriment of the majority Africans languishing in poverty.

Perhaps the new attention to miners by the NUM will, at least, help raise the standard of living of some of the workers and help distribute some of the tremendous mining profits to the workers.

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Allan Baryio

Allan is an ardent East African journalist. Born and living in Uganda, Allan attained a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from Makerere University plus certification in journalism. Currently the writer, Allan Koojo Bariyo, is finalizing a law degree. Having dreamt of seeing African join the rest of the world, the writer aspires to relay the the continent globally sticking to dissemination of accurate, educative and impartial ideas.

Baryio has contributed publications for a number of news agencies including The International Business Times,AfriOIL and The Independent Magazine-Uganda.

Contact Allan Baryio


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