News / Africa

S. Africa Shooting Exposes Miners' Living Conditions

IKEMELENG, South Africa — The shock, the mourning, and now the questions 10 days after the shoot-out in a South African platinum mine in which police killed 34 striking miners.  The tragedy laid bare the harsh living conditions of the workers and the growing anger in the mines.

The sound of machines at the mine can be heard from the miners' shacks, in the what is called the platinum belt.  It is here, 100 kilometers west of South Africa's capital city Pretoria, that 80 percent of the world's platinum is dug out.

Walking back home after eight hours of work, Nicolas is tired.  Since last year, the 26-year-old miner spends his days in the dark, hundreds of meters underground.  He says accidents can happen very fast.

"Down there, there is a lot of injuries," he said. "Even the hanging walls, sometimes, the rocks falling, something like that."

Ten-thousand people live in Ikemeneng township.  Miners, like Nicolas, earn around $500 a month working for nearby mining companies, such as AngloAmerican.  They also get a living allowance of around $200 a month, not enough to find a decent accommodation close to the mine and avoid transportation costs.  So the vast majority of them prefer sending money to their families and live in nearby shacks.

Norman Thobeli has been working here for eight years.  He says despite the frustration many miners feel, companies will always find a ready workforce.

"The conditions sometimes, you find workers, you find yourself sometimes working in unsafe place, and there is no way that you can deny sometimes, because you need to work there," he said.

His shack has no electricity, no running water, and the outside toilet is shared with two other families.  

South Africa's Mining Industry

  • Number of workers: 498,141
  • Industry deaths: 128
  • Key commodities mined: Diamonds, gold, platinum, palladium
  • Real mining GDP: $12.06 billion
  • Mineral exports: $36.25 billion

Source: Chamber of Mines of South Africa Figures for 2010
The platinum industry has been here for long a long time, but it was only after white minority rule ended that the miners got the right to protest and started to talk about their woes, which also include the impact of the industry on the environment.

Since 2006, the Johannesburg-based Bench Marks Foundation has been monitoring and studying the work and living condition of the miners.  Executive Director John Capel says the poverty of the miners has consequences for South Africa's welfare.

"Those worker become a burden on the community, on local health facilities, on clinics, on everything else," he said. "So the government needs to to be looking at this and say, 'What is needed, around the mining industry for workers, for communities?  How can we improve the lives of or working conditions, how can we implement laws?"

But its easier said than done when the lawmakers face a conflict of interest.  Some ruling-party ANC officials are also trustees or stakeholders in some of these mining companies, making reform a difficult balancing act.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Optimist from: Everywhere
August 27, 2012 10:41 AM
South Africa mining industry can still be profitable with paying miners three times the wedges it is paying them. In Canada, Australia, US, Russia and other countries mining industry makes good profit with paying workers decent livable wedges plus health care insurance. It's my understanding that South Africa mining industry is still working under the rules set up before the 1990s, its time to stop such exploitation and adopt to the times, economic freedom for all. It is not fair while the pockets of the mining industry is growing by leaps-and-bounds, the workforce should see some of the benefits and improved living conditions. If the South African mining industry is not able to do this, then its best for them to leave the mineral rich areas for other mining companies that are able to make profit with satisfied workforce.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs