Who should we blame?

Jeremy Gordin on revolting miners and mine-owners, NUM and Jeff Radebe

I saw a wonderful thing on TV last week - a wonderful, intrinsically Seffrican thing - and for once I'm not being facetious.

It was one of the many miners who were out on strike. He was hanging out with a bunch of his buddies, outside a mine compound somewhere. Does Gold Fields, the company represented by my old china, Sven "out to" Lunsche, have a mine in Carletonville ...? Yeah, I think it does; I think it's called Driefontein; so this was Carletonville.

And here was this fellow and he was flourishing his - or a - pay slip. Whose exactly it was, was not clear; none of the details, except the rand amounts, was clear. But the pay amount on this slip, before deductions, was indeed R2 000. Now it has been pointed out to me that the minimum starting wage on a mine is in the region of R4 500.00. So maybe he wasn't a miner at all; maybe he was a security guard.

It doesn't really matter in terms of what he said, which was: "I have a wife and three children and I can't manage on this money." He hesitated a split second, and then added: "I had a girl friend too but I told her there was no more money and she must go."

Now, having cogitated on what he said, I thought to myself: "This fellow's not too bright, is he? I'd have dumped the wife and kids and asked the girl friend to hang in."

But that's the point, isn't it? This was a regular, unspoilt Seffrican: no apparent guile, no subterfuge, no nonsense, no apologies, and no lies. A poor man but, as far as we could tell, a man of some kind of honour nonetheless (unlike me): he stayed with the wife and children.

No nonsense about his cultural or gender rights or what-have-you. Just straight down the line: I have a wife, I have three children, and I have a girlfriend. That's how it is. That's the African way. Every man should have a wife and children and a chick. But it's not working out; I had to drop the nyatsi because I don't have enough money.

Okay, I'm not suggesting that I'd like to hang out at Scusi with this fellow or his buddies; because, doubtless, after a few beers and some fire water, this man, if he disagreed with me, or didn't like the way I wanted to do things, might try to prise off my cojones with his pocket panga.

... So: in more ways than one, many light years away from you and me and Lunsche and the guys who own the mine - and so in some way fresh as a mountain stream. Something like the car guard Patrick in Braamfontein who, after I have him R5.05 yesterday, gave me back the 5c coin, saying, "I really don't need this."

Another real Seffrican - in a completely different way is Ian Farlam, the retired Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judge who's heading the Marikana commission of inquiry. Said to be incorruptible - and smart to boot.

Smart he surely is. What did he do right from the get-go? He inspected the Marikana miners' living quarters, including the ablution facilities. Let the Sowetan's Olebogeng Molatlhwa tell the story: 

"The Marikana Commission of Inquiry yesterday witnessed the appalling conditions [bit of the old editorial comment here, but never mind; let the facts do the work for you, son ....] in which Lonmin Platinum mineworkers in Rustenburg live. Retired judge Ian Farlam, commission members and lawyers of different parties discovered that at least 96 men shared four dilapidated communal toilets and six showers. The commission heard that although four men were meant to share a single unit, up to seven men live in a single unit."

I am not exactly certain what a "dilapidated" toilet is, but we get the picture, right? I don't have to spell it out.

Or how about Sapa?

"The judicial commission of inquiry into the shooting at Lonmin platinum mine concluded a two-day on-site inspection yesterday afternoon. ...The commission toured blocks of ‘old-style' single-sex hostels inhabited by mineworkers. Lonmin representative Natasha Viljoen told Farlam: ‘We are currently converting and we will take you to see the final products - ‘new-style hostels'.

"Several workers were milling about when the judge entered a room with seven beds. Cooking utensils were stashed in one corner, and a low wall in the middle of the room divided four of the beds from the other three. The judge asked to see the toilet. Several men were busy cleaning it. Farlam took a dirty, unused and damaged toilet roll dispenser and remarked: ‘This thing looks like it dispensed toilet paper ages ago'."

God, as you know, lives in the detail. Therefore to find him, we do, alas, sometimes need to search among the toilet roll dispensers.

You do know, don't you, my darlings, that we have had since April 2004 something called a "Broad Based Socio-Economic Charter for the South African mining industry" - the Mining Charter?

So who's been screwing around and not abiding by it? Guess who, in other words, has been letting the workers live in filthy conditions? Why, goodness me, it's the same capitalist mine owners who don't want to pay rock drillers R16k a month.

Well, some would say that I'm being unfair. According to the charter, mining companies have until 2014 to convert miners' accommodation into something reasonably habitable. "Lonmin representative Natasha Viljoen" above points out that Lonmin is in the middle of a conversion - and Lonmin Plc reported (before the murders) that it needed to finish its conversions by December 2014.

So maybe the good judge is not going to be wondering aloud about whether certain people should lose their licences. But it was nonetheless a smart move, as I said, to begin not only with the killing ground but with the conditions as well.

Who else does not seem to have been overly concerned about the way the ordinary common or garden variety mine worker lives - with the result that some mine workers have clearly gone dangerously feral? What has the good ol' National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) been doing this past decade? Well, they were presumably involved in the drafting of the charter. But why is it that there are many mine workers who don't want to NUM to negotiate for them?

Given that NUM shop stewards are being murdered, there might be other, sinister forces at work - I don't know. Normally, in any other country, we could blame the commies. But NUM is the commies. So who should we blame? The IFP? Anyway, I do think that miners have been shunned for way too long by too many people and that their representatives have come way too fat and comfortable (like you and me) - and now we're paying a price for it. Or, rather, other people are paying a price for it.

I'm getting angry. But, I ask myself in the dead of night as I toss and turn sleeplessly, shifting my capacious belly from side to side, digging my elbows into my long-suffering wife's ribs, and shooting up on insulin, is my anger pointing in the right direction? Justice "the sky is falling" Malala got really angry in his column on Monday - and threw the book at the president of the Beloved Republic for just about everything you can think of.

He went after him for Nkandlagate; for Mrs Cwele the drug dealer; for the board of SAA parachuting out of the company; for the spreading strikes; for the education debacle; and for the Concourt judgment on Menzi "check the spoons before I leave" Simelane. (Rabbi Dr Samuel Johnson: "If he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons.")

But I wondered: who would have recommended Simelane for the job? Surely, it was none other than Zuma's fixit-man, Jeffrey Thamsanqua "Jeff" Radebe, the so-called minister of justice, who is, oddly enough, married to Bridgette Radebe, "our first black female mining entrepreneur" and is the sister of Patrice Motsepe. And Motsepe is, according to the Sunday Times, our richest man. He also owns Mamelodi Sundowns, whose supporters are even more unruly than ANC members at their four-yearly conference.

So how come Jeffrey Thamsanqua is not getting into trouble about anything? Just wondering.

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