Mamphela Ramphele | Violence is a common thread in our mining industry troubles

Police round up suspected zama zamas during a recent raid in Krugersdorp after eight women were raped in the area.

Police round up suspected zama zamas during a recent raid in Krugersdorp after eight women were raped in the area. Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi

The recent gang rapes of young women in the abandoned mines in West Rand is a painful result of successive governments’ failures to hold the mining industry accountable for ensuring closure of mines and rehabilitation of the land, writes Mamphela Ramphele.

Recent events remind us that the South African mining industry is built on the foundations of the violence of dispossession and the nature of the process of extracting highly desired minerals from the bowels of Mother Earth. Successive ANC governments have failed dismally to transform and regulate the mining industry to make its violence history.

The cruellest irony of it all is the perpetuation of the structural violence of dispossession compounded by the migrant labour system that continues to undermine African family life. Black men continue to be housed in single-sex hostels that violate their human dignity. The lack of privacy and the poor state of the facilities have led to the mushrooming of shacks on and around mine properties as a form of self-help to secure privacy. The government and the workers’ unions have failed to transform this humiliating system.

Failure to hold mining industry accountable 

The horrific crimes, including the recent gang rapes of young women in the abandoned mines in West Rand, are painful results of successive governments’ failures to hold the mining industry accountable for ensuring closure of mines and rehabilitation of the land. The provisions of the 2002 Mineral and Petroleum Resources Act are crystal clear about the standards to be met from cradle to the grave of each mine.

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Government failures are also evident at the local levels where municipalities in whose jurisdiction mining operations are located.  Basic physical and social infrastructure is in a severe state of disrepair. Basic services such as roads, water and sanitation and waste removals are beyond the capacity of many municipalities. The government continues to violate the right of citizens to dignified human settlements and basic services.

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Many poor citizens live in shacks in and around operational and abandoned mines. Residents of these areas are stranded ex-mine workers, local and foreign. They all eke out a living in undignified circumstances, because their options post-closure of mines, are limited. The beneficiaries of government failure and non-compliance of mining companies are crime syndicates who extract the remaining minerals by exploiting poor ex-miners.

Why have our landscapes been scarred by mine dunes, open shafts, and polluting chemicals and heavy metals, oozing into waterways in our water-scarce country? Why are the mining companies that have made billions of rands over many decades not being held accountable for proper mine closure?

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The Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs, Gwede Mantashe, failed to respond to a direct question from a journalist a few weeks ago about why the government was not enforcing orderly closure of mines by holding mining companies accountable. He characteristically digressed to speak about the government closing gaping mining holes in the East Rand. Why should our taxes be used to clean up after wealthy mining companies that have neglected their duties?

Marikana massacre

The 10th Anniversary of the Marikana Massacre shines a light on the violence of inequity within the pay structure of our mining industry. The direct cause of this massacre was the slave wages that have been paid to black mine workers from the beginning of time. Lonmin workers in 2012 were simply demanding a living wage in an industry where the gap between the CEOs and lower-level workers is a scandal.

Sadly, the inequities continue.

Take for instance, the CEO of Sibanye/Stillwater’s 2020/21 compensation of R300 million compared to the R150 000 for rock drillers in the 2021/22 financial year. We would be unwise to forget that 44 Marikana miners died fighting to secure a hike to this low- level wage from its pre-strike level of R48 000.

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Effective policing resulting in arrests and convictions of the criminals involved in the West Rand rapes, should be complemented by prosecuting the mining companies who have abandoned unprofitable mines without ensuring the proper closure, rehabilitation and security of these mining areas. Gender-based violence is driven by our failure to transform our social relationships towards a society imbued with the values of Ubuntu to promote respectful complementary relationships between men and women.

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We need to honour those who have borne the brunt of the legacy and perpetuation of structural violence in our society, by holding our government accountable to end this violence. The government must enforce provisions of the laws of the country to protect the weak from the strong. Only competent public servants should be appointed to serve the poorest among us at local, provincial and national, to restore their dignity and enable them to become contribution members of society. As citizens we must end our complacency in the face of the violation of the rights and dignity of our fellow citizens, and demand accountability from government.

– Mamphela Ramphele Co-President of the Club of Rome and Co-Founder of ReimagineSA.

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