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Job cuts kill towns

Aug 26 2018 07:42
Lesetja Malope

The looming mass retrenchments at Impala Platinum’s Rustenburg mines are already causing panic among businesses in the local community.

The job cuts, which the company says will see 13 000 workers offloaded along with five shaft closures, come only a few years after the area was brought to its knees by the country’s costliest wage strike in the mining sector.

In 2014 the majority union at Implats, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, staged a five-month strike over wages; that disaster is still fresh in the community’s memory.

The strike was one of the costliest in the history of the platinum sector and the majority of businesses have not fully recovered from that period.

Driving around the area near the Impala mine reveals that the township, just like the town of Rustenburg, has a lot of motor-related businesses.

In town almost every second street has a car dealership; in the township and mining communities the majority of the major businesses are either car washes, car repairs or car-parts retailers.

Panic

City Press meets up with Berto Bie, a 28-year-old Mozambican-born hairstylist and salon owner. He gives a clearer picture of the panic that has engulfed nearby Meriting township, one of the mine-hosting communities of Impala.

Having been a resident of the area for a decade, Bie had just started his business when the 2014 strike hit.

“It was bad. People sold their cars and even taxis were not operating,” he says, adding that one of the biggest businesses in the area is backroom rental accommodations.

Although he is a foreigner, Bie says he has never experienced xenophobia. Being fluent in Setswana helped him integrate into the community.

A huge portion of the community, like with most mining communities, is made up of people from the Eastern Cape, Lesotho and other neighbouring countries.

Unlike most foreigners in the community, Bie has never worked in a mine. Even his uncle – who brought him to the country – did not work in a mine.

“I didn’t finish school even at home. I’m from Patrice Lumumba zone in Maputo. When I arrived here I didn’t even know English,” he says.

He narrates with a heavy Setswana accent how the upcoming retrenchments will probably signal dark days for the community.

“All businesses here depend on the mine. Even for me here, most of the customers are ladies and they either work at the mine or their boyfriends work there,” he says.

Bie is the father of a three-year-old who stays with his mother 400km away in Taung, a small town in the west side of North West. The thought of being unable to provide for his family because of the looming retrenchments makes him ponder his survival.

Disaster

According to Liau Matale, a National Union of Mineworkers leader who is also a training instructor at Impala, the retrenchments will have a devastating outcome for the mine community.

Recalling how the residents of the mine’s hostels have not recovered from the 2014 strike, Matale says fewer people than planned would lose their jobs, but the eventual losers would still be the community as crime would skyrocket.

Matale, a Lesotho national, does not mince his words when narrating how the company is dealing with the issue. He is unequivocal that the employer plans to offload the majority of workers to its contractors, to avoid paying decent wages via the retrenchment process.

“Most of those workers will be taken up by the contractor for lower salaries and do the same work for Implats.”

He says the contractors would end up getting the lion’s share of the work as a result of the alleged strategy of the mine.

“Implats’ intention is to use contractors because when people talk of R12 500 a month [demanded by the miners in 2014] which we have not reached, what most people don’t know is that contractors get half of that for the same job,” he says.

Matale says some of the hostels are full of criminals and prostitution is rife, so the upcoming retrenchments are bound to spell disaster for the community within the mine compounds and nearby communities.

He says very few people have recovered financially from the effects of the 2014 strike, so the retrenchments will simply add salt to the wounds.

“It’s been four years now, I still have not recovered financially from the 2014 strike. There are people who were stealing pigs in the community just to eat.

“There are people who starved to death in 2014. Some of the businesses went under and the few that survived have not recovered,” he says.

Matale dismisses the idea that strike action might be a viable option to pressure the mine from retrenching.

“No one will go for a strike I can tell you that. The repercussions of that will last for at least five years.

“People felt the pain of that 2014 strike,” he says.

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impala platinum  |  job cuts  |  retrenchments
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