The South African Federation of Trade Unions is shocked at the news that the decomposing bodies of seven suspected ‘illegal’ miners have been recovered near a mineshaft in Benoni, Ekurhuleni, over the weekend.
“It is suspected that they all have been shot and killed somewhere and the bodies later dumped,” said Colonel Lungelo Dlamini, Gauteng Police Spokesperson. “Police have opened murder cases for investigation.”
Not far away in Boksburg in November, four ‘illegal’ miners were killed and 15 others arrested after a shootout with police.
SAFTU sends its condolences to the families of these latest victims and demands that the police and Department of Mineral Resources urgently and thoroughly investigate the deaths, arrest the perpetrators and take steps to prevent any further such tragedies.
These killings are suspected to be just a few of many more violent deaths of ‘zama zama’ workers, who go down closed or disused shafts without mining licences and work with no safety standards in place and are exploited by dealers and criminal gangs, who buy the minerals they extract and sell them at a great profit.
Brigadier Sam Manala‚ Roodepoort Police Station Commander‚ claims that approximately 90% of the 88 murders recorded in his precinct‚ which includes Durban Deep mine‚ are related to illegal mining. “This is one of the biggest problems that we are facing in this area‚” he told GroundUp.
“Within the last year‚ there have been so many dead bodies around here‚” a 50-year-old Roodepoort resident Fani Magwaza confirmed to GroundUp. “Just in the past few weeks‚ I can’t tell you how many people have been shot. At night‚ all you hear is gunshots.”
According to a 2015 report by the South African Human Rights Commission‚ there were approximately 30‚000 ‘illegal’ miners operating across South Africa and the number seems to be growing, as more and more desperate workers are trying to feed their families by any means possible.
Durban Deep mine formally ceased its operations in 2001. But growing competition for the 12-million ounces of gold still believed to be unmined in the area has sparked a deadly turf war in which illegal miners have been murdered by rival gangs and syndicates on an almost weekly basis.
Deputy Mineral Resources Minister Godfrey Oliphant has said that about 10% of South Africa’s gold production‚ worth about R7-billion‚ is taken out of the country each year through illicit mining‚ much of it in Gauteng.
SAFTU has consistently argued that zama zamas are just as deserving of respect and justice as other ‘legal’ employees. They have families and dependents and the same right to earn a living. All mine workers, ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’, are victims of exploitation, either by the ‘legal’ mine-owners or the ‘illegal’ dealers and criminals.
They risk their lives every time they go underground and as well as getting no protection from health and safety laws, they face arrest if caught by the mine owners or police.
The growing number of ‘illegal’ working in mines is an extreme example of how formal employment is giving way to unorganised, and insecure forms of work, like the waste-pickers who empty bins and scour rubbish dumps for anything that can be recycled, seasonal farm workers, car-guards at shopping malls and street-side hawkers.
Conditions are little better for young workers in the Expanded Public Works Programmes (EPWP), who are paid as low as R11 an hour, often doing difficult and dangerous work formerly done by permanent workers.
SAFTU demands that all these super-exploited workers, including the zama zamas, be legalised, trained, organised in unions and given the opportunity to work, with the same rights and conditions as all workers are entitled to.
The federation was extremely encouraged by last week’s news that hundreds of EPWP workers in Durban, employed by eThekwini Metropolitican Council as refuse collectors, went on strike demanding to be employed by the City on a full-time basis and demanding an increase to their R2 500 per month salary.
In the mining sector however, legalizing zama zamas will be resisted by the privatel mining companies who are motivated solely by the drive to maximize profits, and want to protect their right to mine, to not to mine ‘legally’, with no concern for the fate of their workers, local communities to the national economy.
This is a further justification for the nationalisation of the mining industry under democratic control by workers and local communities so that they can be operated for the benefit of society and not for the enrichment of a few shareholders.