Arab Today, arab today hunger anxiety as south african mining strike wears on
Last Updated : GMT 08:52:09
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Hunger, anxiety as South African mining strike wears on

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Hunger, anxiety as South African mining strike wears on

Marikana - AFP

Miner's wife Nomfanelo Jali hasn't been able to serve her family meat in a month and increasingly struggles to put anything on the table at all, as South Africa's long-running platinum strike takes its toll. On January 23 Jali's husband downed tools along with 80,000 other platinum miners, vowing not to return to the shafts until their minimum monthly wage was doubled to 12,500 rand, around $1,186. Ten weeks later, inside a tin shack in the shadow of the quieted Marikana mine, Jali doles out corn meal porridge to some of her seven kids. Her husband is still on strike and the next meal depends on hand-outs from the government, friends or extended family. "We haven't eaten meat in a month, my children are crying for meat," she said. Until the day before, when Jali collected her monthly 600 rand ($56) social grant for her youngest two children, they had "spent the whole week without food in the house." A three hours drive and a world away in a glass-fronted Johannesburg office, talks between the miners' union and the mine owners seem to achieve little more than ever-higher levels of acrimony. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) trenchantly says it will not budge, despite members losing nearly five billion rand ($470 million) in wages already. The world top three platinum producers -- Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin -- insist the wage demands are unrealistic and would put mines out of business. Meanwhile Jali and thousands of other families bear the brunt. Fewer meals are eaten and the ones that are could not be called balanced. In similar shack on the same dusty rock-strewn patch of Highveld, Granny Sophie, now in her seventies, cuts open a carton to lick the last drops of amasi -- a calorie-packed sour milk drink. - Ghost Town - The longer the strike goes on the more is owed to landlords, schools, loan sharks and friends. "At times I have sleepless nights," said Wendy Pretorius, a single mother of three, who lives off her father who works at Lonmin. It is now just a cruel irony that Marikana's residents live meters above the world's largest reserves of platinum -- a metal used in everything from catalytic converters to jewellery. The community was already hit by the killing of 34 miners by police during a wildcat strike in August 2012. Now business has plummeted to a quarter of what it was before the strike by some shopkeepers' estimates. "If they don't go back to work very soon, Marikana is going to be a ghost town," warns a shop owner who asked not be named for fear of being targeted by the militant union members. "Shops are closing down" he said. Supermarket manager Susana Ribeiro even turns off her fridges at night to try save energy costs. "We can't order stocks, our expenses are higher than the income, we can't pay rent, we can't afford electricity anymore." The butchery section of the shop, once a major income earner, now sells a tenth of meat it sold before. "Now all I am selling are chicken heads, chicken feet - the cheapest they (miners) can find," she said. - Correcting wrongs of history - Union leader Jeff Mpahlele admits "there's suffering" and hardship, but is unrelenting. "If we miss this opportunity, we'll never correct the wrongs that have been there for ages," said Mpahlele, who is AMCU's secretary general. Individual miners -- some of whom now can be seen whiling away blistering hot days gathered under a tree sharing a plastic tub of cloudy beer -- are similarly stoic. Thirty-one-year-old Lovers Mathaseni -- whose wife and child are surviving on hand-outs from his siblings -- said he won't give up and is prepared to strike "even for 12 months, until we get 12,500 rand." For people from the area, that network of relatives and well-wishers is vital. "I don't think they must go back now," said Primrose Sonti, a property owner who has not received any rent in two months. "I think it will be better for all of us to die," if their pay demands are not met. For the many thousands of miners who travelled from the far-away corners of the Eastern Cape, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland or elsewhere to become the family breadwinner, there are fewer options. Some have gone home and some are forced to turn to high-interest-charging lenders -- locally dubbed loan sharks. Urgent Mavundza, 26, works for a mine that is not on strike, but is now forced to look after four older brothers who are not being paid, as well as their wives and children. He has never borrowed cash before and is now considering loans with predatory interest rates. "If things are like this... there is little choice," he said. "The thing is to put food on the table. People must eat," said Mavundza.

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