Ten years after the massacre of mine workers conspired by the state and their employer in Marikana, residents continue to fight for a better life
The tenth commemoration of the Marikana massacre bring feelings of sadness, disappointment and anger as residents of the townships around the mine reflect on their current living conditions. Their fellow residents paid with their lives fighting for a better life in the bloodiest labour dispute since the dawn of democracy. 34 people were killed and 78 seriously injured after the police opened fire on the workers who were encamped on the koppie near Nkaneng informal settlement in 2012.
To date, still no arrests and reparations.
A Marikana commemoration tour through the mining communities of Lapologang, Maditlhokwa, RDP section and Wonderkop, and a speak-out, was organised by the Bench Marks Foundation to show guests that there is still no improvement in the lives of the people living there. Air quality has deteriorated as a result of emissions from smelters, their houses have cracked from the blasting by the mines, the water is not good for human consumption, there is no proper sanitation, sewage spills into their yards and high levels of unemployment have stoked crime and gender-based violence. “Roads are not tarred, the air is filled with dust. Marikana is like a frontier town ravaged by war,” says Eric Makuoa, a project officer from Bench Marks.
“What is even more painful is that when we are sick as a result of these harmful emissions, we can’t be admitted at these hospitals around mines because we don’t work there and we don’t have medical aids,” says one of the community representatives on the tour.
Apart from workers attaining their R12,500 salary demand, residents of Marikana’s settlements say the general standard of living has gone from bad to worse, deteriorating especially after Sibanye-Stillwater took over Lonmin in 2019. There is little trust in mining companies among Marikana residents. This became evident when some residents accused those speaking to the media of spreading false narratives and putting their leaders in a bad light. “Politics have taken over. As long we are divided, these companies will never account because some people here are already in their pockets. It’s so sad,” says one of the residents, Maila-Maila.
Mines are also accused of not doing enough to alleviate poverty, create jobs and improve the quality of education available. Young people looking for employment opportunities say stringent requirements are a deliberate barrier to getting work in the mine. Johannes Moabi, born and bred in Marikana, says he is unemployed, without matric and would be happy if he can just be employed as a general worker. “I believe there should be a space for everyone irrespective of their education,” he says.
Allegations of sexual favours and bribes to get jobs cannot be ruled out. A report by Bench Marks revealed that mines still employ people far away from host communities through labour brokers, sub-contractors, councillors, and chiefs who commonly abuse their positions and take advantage of the most desperate. To get a job at a mine can cost as much as R10,000 in bribe money, which is a great deal more than a local person can afford.
When you are a woman, you are likely to be asked for sexual favours in exchange for employment. “It is true that as a women for you to be hired, you have to sell your body to someone in high authority. You can ask a lot of women around. Many of them will agree with me. A lot of women are not working and they depend on men for their survival. You endure pain and disappointment while trying to live a normal life. It is really sad,” says Christinah Mudau of Mining Host Communities in Crisis and Network.
Lerato Mothibedi, a resident of Lapologang near Marikana, agrees. She says in the absence of permanent jobs, the most work you can hope for is a short-term contract and a long wait for the next one. Another area of concern for her is the quality of water and toilets. “I used to have a running stomach because of the water here and when toilets are full you have to make a plan and drain them yourself,” she says.
Mavis Maseko, another resident from RDP section, who has endured the stench of sewage spilling into the back of her house since 2011, says this is severely affecting her health and that of her child. Sometimes the sewage flows into her house and has damaged the furniture. She has reported this several times but has received no answers. “I’m worried about my child because every day I must guard her not to play in there,” she says.
“It is really sickening that 10 years later people are still living in such appalling conditions. The platinum is the most expensive metal. Mining companies are making huge profit but that doesn’t benefit people. What these companies should be doing is to listen to people and come up with a sustainable development programme to better the lives of the people,” says Bishop Jo Seoka, chairman of the Bench Marks Foundation.
“The government must force these companies to implement social and labour plans. They must also inspect and hold them accountable for non-compliance. And the social and labour plans must be negotiated with the communities,” says David van Wyk, lead researcher at the Bench Marks Foundation.
Attempts to get a comment from Sibanye-Stillwater drew blank.