Not Just About the Slave Wage of Mineworkers!

Not Just About the Slave Wage of Mineworkers!

 

By Hwaa Irfan

What is glaringly apparent from the platinum strikes of South Africa is that a struggle that was fought against with the blood, sweat and tears of a people, has been exchanged for power in the same struggle, the struggle against apartheid that has never left the country just as its twin remains in place in the far north in Palestine.

Oh, yes, the visible shackles have been removed, and as long as one can play a role that supports the system then one can move from no identity to some identity, as long as the pillars of apartheid remain unchallenged. It is an erroneous exchange for the 1922 white gold miners rebellion of Johannesburg  that chanted:  , ‘Workers of the World Unite for a White South Africa!’ or in African-American slavery parlance, the field nigger has become a house nigger!

On the shoulders of the African National Congress (ANC), Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and SA Communist Party (SACP) a trail from the:

  • 1960 – Sharpeville massacre of 69 indigenous people for burning the apartheid regime’s racist passbooks
  • 1976 – Soweto massacre of 1,000 school children by the police and army for resisting the teaching of Afrikaans and taking to the streets.
  • In the 1980s – 1990s a series of massacres including the 1992 Bisho Massacre of 28 indigenous people who were shot dead by a Bantustan army.

All of those massacres led to the first one-person one-vote election of April 199, but if the US today is anything to go by, the vote of each civilian does not change the status quo, only the face of what fronts the status quo.

The trouble with South Africa is that it is rich in money-making natural resources. The trouble with South Africa is that the benefits of its natural resources like the rest of the world flows from the bottom of the pile up, and in the case of South Africa out.

Amidst ANC split between pro- and anti-Zuma forces, and power struggles spreading outwards, are the people who make the wealth themselves – in this case, the miners treated as a disposable resource as demonstrated by the  August 16 Marikana Massacre of 34 wildcat-striking platinum mineworkers (plus 78 wounded). Weeks following their families were searching for loved ones in hospitals and prisons receiving no help to find them. It was due to public outrage that eventually led to the release of 264 arrested mineworkers charged with attempted murder and murder under the “common purpose” apartheid law! What was left to charge them with once this law was ‘removed’ was illegal gatherings (still smacking of apartheid) and possession of dangerous weapons (sticks and machetes).

The “common purpose” apartheid law was used in the case of the “Uppington 14”, who were sentenced to death in 1989 for the alleged murder of a policeman in 1985 even though the trial judge acknowledged that they did not carry out the killing.

As for the tools of the state, the police armed to the hilt with machine guns, and massacring 34 mineworkers there was no charge! If this was a part of the Arab Spring or Afghanistan, there would be international outcry, at least publicly, but the elite whether in the Arab Spring countries or in the West share the same voice making the global desire for platinum more important than the people!

What was reported to have been televised live supports police claims that they only fired on the workers in self defence, but this does not reflect the whole picture. What was happening away from the camera was carnage by the police themselves! Listening to the voice of the people, Iqra Qalam interviewed one platinum miner, 27-year old Malusi King Danga.

“It was my first day on the hill. I was expecting the employer to address us. I was there for about five minutes and police started putting up the razor wire. People starting running and police fired a shot. I was running away to the informal settlement in the opposite direction and police chased me and said ‘Go back to where you came from.’ I ran back towards a second hill, a small hill. I was so desperate. I didn’t know where to go. Police circled the boulders. I ran up and down trying to escape, to take another route. We were trapped. I crouched and hid myself under one of the rocks. Then I heard the police. I heard a gunshot. An old man was hiding near me. His foot was exposed. I heard another gunshot and I heard him say ‘I am finished’. I asked him ‘Why do you say you are finished, Madala [grandfather]?’ Then I saw his boots were full of blood. The old man was shot.”

 “I heard a gunshot. It seemed like he [a mine worker] was running away. I heard a gunshot and I saw him fall face down. A third man raised his arms to surrender and police shot his hand and then his foot and he lost his balance. After the third guy was shot, I waited and I heard the policeman say ‘All of those on the ground, come out’. He said: ‘You with the shorts and striped t-shirt—get out.’ As I was coming up they kicked me in my teeth and one of the gold fillings fell out”.

Those imprisoned filed claims with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, for assault and torture while in detention – lessons of apartheid!

 “…they beat us and they beat us. They said they were looking for a nail in the cell. We did not have one. While they were searching they found a cell phone on one of the guys. They klapped [slapped] him. They kicked him. They stepped on him. We were all there. They did this in front of us. What about his dignity? While they were hitting him, other police were laughing at him.”

 “Another guy washed his blood-stained clothes. He wrapped himself in a blanket. The police pulled the blanket off him. He was naked and they laughed at him.”

Meanwhile, the released mineworkers face court on 12 February 2013 in a fight to avoid being imprisoned.

Malusi turned to the platinum mines when his parents died leaving him as the main breadwinner for three younger brothers. In return for making ongoing profits the same people during the official period of apartheid i.e. the Oppenheimer, Anglos & Co, and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats).

Malusi receives slave wages; after deductions and levies with a take home pay of R3000 ($360) per month for labouring deep underground in appalling conditions. With R3000 (US$360), Malusi pays for university fees for one of his brothers, while the younger stay with him. Once all bills are paid, Malusi is left with R200 (US$35) at the end of each month.

Malusi works in the Lonmin mines, which signed a “peace accord” with the NUM trade union, Solidarity, and UASA (United Association of South Africa). Lonmin was losing around US$4mn daily, but worried about its profit margin Lonmin has refused to pay a wage increase that will add a US$30mn million to it expenses. Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) refused to sign the peace accord, and they are justified as the same week that Lonmin conceded to a wage increase for 4000 Marikana rock drill operators, it cancelled short-term contracts of 1200 workers. Even if a decent wage is settled upon, what about the working conditions, where do the profits go, and why are the indigenous of South Africa not benefiting!

South Africa possesses 80% of world platinum resources. South African Cyril Ramaphosa is partner in Lonmin, which is one way of ensuring local participation in maintenance of what is essentially an outflow of capital. Ramaphosa offered US$240,000 of his company’s funds to bury the murdered strikers, but Lonmin refuses to pay US$30mn. Ramaphosa’s company Shanduka is paid US$360,000 annually by Lonmin for providing ‘empowerment’ consulting! Obviously that ‘empowerment’ is not for the masses or his recently purchased prize bull cow for U.S$2.3mn.

Platinum is classified as a strategic natural resource, with metals and minerals concentrated in a few countries. As such restrictive practices ensures control by the colonialists-globalists in the form of

quotas, export taxes, duties and charges and mandatory minimum export prices on a commodity that is needed in small amounts. These practices also ensures the flow of natural resources to producers in the West which will make high amount of profits from the off-spin products. The country supplying the raw material ends up getting very little in return while higher and higher export taxes are placed on them for a commodity that is in demand by the importing country!

Platinum is used in jewelry, laboratory equipment, resistant thermometers, dentistry, catalytic converters ; many electronics including computers, mobile phones, multi-layer ceramic capacitors, component plating, low voltage electrical contacts, and SED/OLED/LCD televisions and fuel cells.

The laws that govern South African platinum mining industry are:

  • Petroleum Resources Development Act 2002 (and subsequent Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill, 2007) the Mineral and Petroleum Royalty Bill 2008, and the Precious Metals Act 2005.
  • The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act encompasses the Mining Charter. This sets out the rules governing the application for, and issue or transfer of mining rights in South Africa. It includes statutory provisions for Black Economic Empowerment and the increased participation of historically disadvantaged South Africans in the mining industry, and has yet to be applied!
  • The Mineral and Petroleum Royalty Bill (final draft released in June 2008) introduces royalties on platinum group metals production as well as other commodities. The royalty rate that applies to a particular company is calculated using a formula based on earnings before interest and tax. The royalties were due to be applied from 1 May 2009 but were postponed until 1 March 2010.
  • The Precious Metals Act makes a number of stipulations about the development, local beneficiation (smelting, refining, etc.) and sale of precious metals. Permits are required to refine and export precious metals. The written approval of the relevant Minister is required for the export of any unwrought or semi-fabricated precious metal.

So whilst there are no specific export duties or quantitative restrictions imposed on exports of platinum group metals from South Africa, there are a number of legislative provisions that might be viewed as restrictions on exports. Another method as witnessed by downgrading Iranian currency recently, is to keep the value of platinum low on the market, when the platinum group metals palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium) are valued at U.S$1,000 an ounce, when South Africa produces 4.5-million ounces of platinum a year (75% of world mine supply) and four million ounces a year of the other PGMs. Someone is making money somewhere!

Then there is the disinvestment of the mining industry that led the industrial revolution, globally. Platinum mines are not immune from that.

Lonmin is world No. 1 platinum producer for Anglo American Platinum said it had resumed its operations in the strike-hit Rustenburg area.  The main buyer of platinum is the European auto industry, so while the economic crisis continues, demand will remain soft, and with the consequent threat that the major platinum mines will simply close shafts, an option that is limited by the fact that South Africa provides over 80% of the global supply! The same people who fix the price of gold, can fix the price of platinum!

July 2012, Anglo-American acquired a 40% stake in de Beers. Based in London Anglo-American’s portfolio includes iron ore, manganese, metallurgical coal, thermal coal, copper,  nickel, and platinum and diamonds which they are the world leaders in, but not providers of. In the U.S., Anglo-American own 44,026 acres of claimed land. Anglo American Mining and its subsidiaries more total land holdings (claims and patents) than over 99.5% of all other mining interests. It is a British multinational company with a market capitalization of approximately £31.2bn as of 23 December 2011, the 15th-largest company of any company.

  • Harry Oppenheimer is chair of Anglo-American Gold Investment Co, and Anglo-American Corp i.e. Anglo-American; and sits on the Barclay’s board.
  • Nicky Oppenheimer is current chair of DeBeers. De Beers was indicted in 1994 for price-fixing by the US Justice Department.
  • The Anglo-American Corp was founded by a group including Rio Tinto. N. M. Rothschild, is heavily involved with the boards of Anglo-American and HSBC (recently charged for money laundering).
  • Oppenheimer, Rothschild, RD, and Shell own BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Anglo American.
  • Anglo-American owns Engelhardt which has a monopoly over refining the world’s gold.

They can’t pay or simply refuse to pay the platinum miners US$30mn! With new innovations, though questionable like platinum-based nanostructures as electrocatalysts for low-temperature fuel cells, future investment in platinum mines is not the problem.

Deep held feelings have stirred amongst the patient people, starting with self representation by forming unions such as Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Along with that has developed a women’s mutual aid movement for the wives and partners of mineworkers and other women of the impoverished Marikana community. But this is not just a company issue, or slave wages, to right the problem, South Africa will have to return to the scene of the battle, apartheid itself, maintained by the global elite! If the future of platinum was so bleak as recently painted, then why is it the controlling entities do not give up the ghost, and allow for platinum to be nationalized or this is just a way of pacifying the natives!

 

Sources:

Anglo American receives final regulatory approval for acquisition of Oppenheimer family’s 40% stake in De Beers” http://www.angloamerican.com/media/releases/2012pr/de_beers_approval

Korinek, J. and Kim, J. “Export Restrictions on Strategic Raw Materials and Their Impact on Trade.” OECD Trade Policy Working Papers, No. 95, OECD Publishing. doi: 10.1787/5kmh8pk441g8-en

Qalam, I. “South African Miners Speak on Marikana Massacre.” http://www.wsws.org/articles/2012/sep2012/saiq-s11.shtml

“Who Owns the West.” http://www.ewg.org/mining/owners/overview.php?cust_id=-328191

Peng, Z, and Yong, H. “Designer platinum nanoparticles: Control of shape, composition in alloy, nanostructure and electrocatalytic property.” Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Rochester, USA http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nantod.2008.10.010

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