29 May 2014

South African AMCU Miners Forced to Beg for Food in Order to Survive

Photo: Werner Beukes/SAPA
Striking mineworkers (file photo).

Close to 80,000 South African miners, who have been striking for the past fourteen weeks due to a wage dispute, now live on handouts. The miners have not been paid since the end of January.

For almost five months, miners belonging to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) have not received any pay due to on-going industrial action. The workers, who have been striking since January 23, are demanding a base wage of around $1,200 (881 euros), compared to the $600 starting wage they currently receive.

The miners are refusing to return to work until their demands are met.

Begging to survive

Many miners are forced to beg for food from family and friends in order to survive. Those who have been living on credit have racked up large debts. Some have been evicted from their rented shacks, or rooms.

Roberto Gwane, a Mozambique national and one of the striking AMCU miners, says the drawn out industrial action has turned him into a full time begger. "Life," he says "is extremely hard for me."

Sometimes, Gwane says, he only drinks water and goes the whole day on an empty stomach. When hunger gets too much, he asks friends for food. Not only that, Gwane's rent for his home is also in arrears, and he owes 500 rand (35 euros) in school fees for his child.

The gift of giving

The Gift of Givers, an international disaster relief organization, started distributing foodstuffs and other necessities to 700 workers at the Khomanani Platinum Mine unable to afford basic provisions.

As the group distributes food packages to the starving miners, their world of sadness fills with joy.

But, Emily Thomas the organization's media liason officer warns, the humanitarian situation of the miners has reached alarming levels. "There is great hunger in the platinum belt as mine workers [have been on strike] for about five months."

In order to combat this the group supplies miners with maize meal, tea, rice, pasta, fresh vegetables, bread, blankets and clothing. What the Gift of Givers group is able to provide is not enough, adds Thomas, what is needed is more urgent and regular assistance.

'At least we can eat today'

As the miners disperse, their joy is obvious; they hurry off with their food parcels to prepare a decent meal after spending days with an empty stomach. Those who do stop to chat are near ecstatic.

Silvia Qophololo, a machine operator assistant at the mine site, is very appreciative of the food parcels. "At least today we will be able to eat and sleep peacefully," she tells DW.

While the industrial action wages on, South Africa's newly appointed Minister of Mineral Resources, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, announced the establishment of an inter-ministerial team to help resolve the pay dispute.


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