Prayers are being said this week for 34 men, employees of the UK mining company Lonmin, who were fatally shot Aug. 16, 2012 during a strike and protest action over pay and conditions at the Marikana platinum mine.
The shootings, by the South African Police Service, unleashed a national crisis. A Commission, appointed by President Jacob Zuma, found the “decisive cause” of events on Aug. 16 was an unlawful and reckless decision by senior police officials to disarm and disperse the strikers, by force if necessary.
But the Commission dug deeper into the context of the strike – namely the horrendous living conditions for mine workers at Marikana which “created an environment conducive to the creation of tension and labor unrest”, the Commission found.
Four years after the massacre, some 13,500 workers still lack decent shelter, according to a scathing new report by Amnesty International, charging the company with “excuses, evasions and lies.”
A Lonmin worker described his living conditions:
“We have many instances where we run out of water, we have many instances where we have no electricity and this can go on for days where we are without water or electricity. Even the back houses (toilets) we use are terrible, there are always flies that get into your shack,” the unnamed miner said.
Lonmin is well aware of the situation. In fact, they promised to construct 5,500 houses for workers by 2011. By 2012 they had built just three.
Nkaneng, in Marikana, is one of many abject slum settlements with shacks built out of metal sheets and bits of wood. Some 15,000 Lonmin workers live in Nkaneng, adjacent to Lonmin operations and within its mine lease area. Garbage is not collected and when it rains, the roads become rivers of mud. In winter the houses are cold and during heavy rains, they leak.
At the Commission hearing, Lonmin was compelled to admit that the conditions at Nkaneng were “truly appalling.”
Under international standards on business and human rights, Lonmin must ensure that employees have access to adequate housing as outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council. Housing is also required by South Africa’s Mining Charter.
Ben Magara of Zimbabwe, who took over as Lonmin’s chief executive a year after the massacre, faulted the workers for failing to understand that decisions have to be for the business . . .”If you don’t have a thriving profitable business and you are not doing it safely and at the right costs you are going to go down — black or white,” he said.
But this year, safety was in short supply as 49 mine workers were killed on the job – an increase from the 77 killed in all of 2015.
“This is a serious setback,” said mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane. “We should not place value on profits over the lives of workers,” he told mine workers two weeks ago.