Struggle for a better life has been declared – by Palesa Morudu (Business Day – June 17, 2014)

SO IT’s back to where it all started. The platinum mine workers were planning on Monday to hold “back to work” marches across the platinum belt, including at Marikana, the scene of the massacre in August 2012.

For nearly six months, platinum miners have shut down the platinum industry, demanding a basic salary of R12,500 a month. Obed Kgaladi, a locomotive driver at Impala Platinum, was quoted in this newspaper as saying: “It is better not to work and suffer than to work and to suffer…. I want a decent place to stay, healthcare, a car and money to pay school fees for my four children.”

These are not simply demands for better wages. These are cries for human dignity. Because any parent who cannot provide shelter and educate their children is stripped of their dignity.

Kgaladi and his 70,000 co-workers have achieved what they were strong enough to get — and it is substantially more than was initially offered.

While the full details were not available at the time of writing, the monthly increase reportedly ranges from R950 to R1,250 over three to five years. This takes the lowest-paid entry-level miner’s pay to R10,000 in three years and close to R12,500 for rock-drill operators, with the living-out allowance apparently frozen at existing levels.

Maya Angelou, who died a few weeks ago, once wrote that “history, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. But, if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” The US writer may not be a known figure on the platinum belt, but her words are as relevant in North West as they are in the US south.

We can apply her observation to Marikana. In Miners Shot Down, a documentary on the massacre, workers sing in praise of their leader, Mgcineni Noki, “the man in the green blanket”. They were determined to avenge Noki’s death after the police pumped 14 bullets into his body. The murder of Noki and his 33 co-workers will forever mark the moment when the postapartheid bubble burst in bloodshed.

The R12,500 demand was about putting an end to a system that has defined mining in this country for more than a century. Black people were forced off their land and became suppliers of cheap labour to the mines. This cheap labour was the major factor in the 1922 miners strike, when white miners revolted against a Chamber of Mines plan to replace what it regarded as expensive labour in a white skin with cheaper labour in a black skin.

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