SAFTU demands urgent action to save mine workers’ lives

The South African Federation of Trade Unions supports the call by the chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on mineral resources, Sahlulele Luzipo, for strong action to be taken against mining company Sibanye-Stillwater, including possibly suspending its operating licence, following the death of a worker at the Khomanani mine at the Driefontein operation, after he entered a scraper path and was caught by the scraper.

He is the 21st employee to die in the company’s mines this year, six of whom have lost their lives in just this month of June. Five died at the Kloof Ikamva mine in Driefontein after they entered an abandoned shaft with poor ventilation.

SAFTU sends its condolences to the family and fellow workers of the deceased worker, and demands that the Department of Minerals urgently does everything possible to find the reason for the accident and impose any necessary new safety rules to prevent a repetition.

SAFTU agrees with Luzipo that the rate at which workers have been dying at Sibanye mines had reached “disastrous proportions”, and that it was high time Sibanye was placed under curatorship.

In most other countries, the death of a worker virtually every week at his or her place of work, half of them employed by the same company, would be declared a national emergency. We must do the same in South Africa and do far more to bring down this appalling level of fatalities.

Since the white colonial capitalists began to plunder the country’s mineral resources 150 years ago, they ruthlessly exploited cheap labour, forced black migrant workers off their land, to risk their lives in dangerous and unhealthy mines or sent home to die slowly and painfully from disease like silicosis.

These racist employers treated the workers as expendable and easily replaced by others. They had no regard for their health and safety, only for their profit from exporting our gold, diamonds, iron ore, coal and platinum rather than beneficiating them to build local manufacturing industries.

After 1994 there was a welcome reduction of fatalities, from 484 in that year to just 73 in 2016. But then it started to rise again. 81 died  from January to November in 2017, the first increase in more than a decade. Now already the total for 2018 stands at 46, meaning that if the fatality rates remain at this level, there will be a second consecutive year of rising fatalities.

There can be little doubt that this increase is related to the financial crisis in the mining industry. With world market prices falling, these exploiters are closing mines, retrenching thousands of workers and condemning communities to desperate poverty and environmental devastation. Unions in the sector believe that   short cuts in safety are also the result of struggling to maintain profit levels.

This is yet another reason to demand that the ANC government implement its 2007 Conference resolution at Polokwane to nationalise the mines, banks and other strategic monopoly industries.

The mines are a national asset, not just a commodity to be rented out to the highest bidder, who can close mines, retrench workers and risk workers’ lives just based on fluctuations in the world market prices. They are a part of our national infrastructure, providing the coal that generates power, and the ore that makes steel, without which a re-industrialised economy will never be possible.

They must be publicly owned, run and developed as part of a democratically planned industrialised economy which beneficiates rather than exports our mineral wealth so that it can create jobs and raise the living standards of all South Africans.

The future of the mining industry is sure to be one of the topics on the agenda at the Working-Class Summit on 21-22 July which SAFTU has convened to unite civil society formations, employed and unemployed workers, those in the informal sector and in more secure work, the students and the landless, the homeless and those fighting against the water crisis and the scourge of violence against women and children, into a struggle for a truly free, democratic and equal society.

We call on all those interested in participating in a such conference to contact us.

Tel: +27 (11) 331 0124
Fax: +27 (11) 331 0176
Twitter: @SAFTU_Media
Facebook: SAFTU

Physical Address, 34 Eloff Street, Johannesburg 2001

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