The South African Federation of Trade Unions pledges its full support for the striking workers at Gupta-owned mines who are not being paid.
About 2,000 workers, who have not been paid any wages in February, marched to the company offices and then downed tools at the Hendrina mine on Wednesday 21 February, after the company’s COO told workers that he was not sure if they would be paid on Friday.
This was followed by news that another Gupta-linked mine in Mpumalamnga – Koornfontein coal mine – has failed to pay its employees’ salaries and that they would strike from today, Monday 26 February.
Workers at both mines have vowed not to return to work until their wages have been paid.
To make matters even worse, their jobs are at risk. Optimum coal mine is being taken to court by another mining company, Derko Mining and Exploration, in an effort to have the mine either placed in business rescue or liquidated. The company owes service providers over R60 million.
The mine could also be shut down over its failure to operate a community water desalination plant, which is a requirement for its mining licence, in line with a requirement for mining companies to meet social and labour obligations to maintain their permits.
It is intolerable that mine-workers, their families and communities are being punished for the crimes of the Guptas and their cronies in Eskom, who have looted billions of rands by exploiting the workers who risk their lives and health mining the coal for Eskom’s power stations. Now the workers face unemployment and their families and local communities face poverty.
All money owed to the workers – and the cost of keeping the mines open – must be recovered by the Assets Forfeiture Unit from those who embezzled it, through fraudulent contracts between Eskom and the companies which supplied its coal.
This episode provides further justification for SAFTU’s demand for the nationalization of the mines, in line with the Freedom Charter’s call that “The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”.
The Gupta brothers are not the only capitalists who have been exploiting their workers, manipulating contracts, damaging the environment and ruining the lives of the local communities. They are just more blatant in the way they go about it. They are all in the business only to amass huge profits for their companies and massive incomes for themselves.
Mining is a vital part of any country’s economy and more so in South Africa because of its central role in the economy. It must no longer be a source of wealth for a tiny elite of mine-owners but be owned and democratically controlled by the workers, and with far stricter health and safety conditions.
The industry must benefit rather than blight communities and play its part in transforming and reindustrialising the economy and improving the lives of all South Africans.