Thousands of Lonmin’s Marikana workers return to mining after a 22% pay raise, ending a six-week strike in which 46 people died. Continuing unrest and ongoing wage strikes at nearby mines suggest the crisis is far from resolution.
Most mineworkers live on $600 a month, living with their families in single-room tin sheds clustered together meters from the mine. Ayanda Ndabeni, a 30-year-old mineworker said:
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. There is no education allowance, no other benefits. There are hostels and houses [provided by the company] which are only for people who know the union and management. We know the company makes a lot of money from the work we do.
The Lonmin mineworkers strike exposes the lack of worker power. Independence movements often end in blood and the mineral wealth of South Africa rarely trickles down to the majority who live and work in abhorrent conditions. Phumelele Gura, a rock driller at Lonmin’s platinum mine in Marikana, said:
We spend eight hours underground. It’s very hot and you can’t see daylight. There is no air sometimes and you have to get air from the pipes down there.
The post-apartheid South African realities of race and class continue to make it one of the most unequal nations on earth.
Violence erupted at the Lonmin mine in Marikana when police gunned down 34 protesters during a standoff on August 16, 2012. The massacre has been compared to the bloody days of apartheid.
The mineworkers approached their union repeatedly over the years, but did not recieve a satisfactory response. They took action, gathering on a hill near the shantytown every day until 16 August, when police let loose a volley of bullets and sent armoured personnel carriers after them.
A judicial commission of inquiry has been set up by South African President Jacob Zuma to investigate the fatal shootings.