SACP: Loan sharks must be stopped
"We will be campaigning to ensure that government greatly strengthens its capacity to monitor, regulate and deal with reckless lending and other financial sector abuses," said SA Communist Party spokesperson Malesela Maleka.
In a statement issued after the SACP central committee's first meeting of year, Maleka said banks were allowing poor people to take out unsecured loans, which they could not repay.
"One of the contributory factors behind the Marikana tragedy was precisely the extortionist behaviour of the loan sharks operating in the surrounding communities."
Workers at Lonmin Platinum's mine in Marikana went on a wildcat strike over wages in August. Thirty-four of them were shot dead when the police opened fire on a group of strikers, allegedly in an attempt to disperse them, on a hill near the mine.
At the time, Maleka said: "10 out of the 11 'mashonisas' (money-lenders) in the area were brazenly breaking the law, making people desperate for money."
The term 'mashonisa', means to sink in isiZulu, and suggests that victims are eventually drowned in the debt they incur.
In September 2012, the Mail & Guardian reported that miners say most Lonmin workers take full advantage of the promises of "quick and easy" cash on offer.
Cash-loan outlets visited last year said their clients, most of whom work for the mine, take out an average unsecured loan of R1 000 to R1 500 with 30 days to repay.
A leading player in this market is Ubank, which has the third-largest market share after African Bank and Capitec.
The National Union of Mineworkers and the Chamber of Mines own Ubank. The pool of workers, many of whom have moved into the area from as far afield as the Eastern Cape, has created a fertile breeding ground for microlenders and banks willing to offer unsecured amounts to individuals.
There are at least a dozen operators, big and small, offering micro loans in Marikana. Miners said they could access loans of up to 50% of the value of their net pay. The net pay for a rock drill operator after deductions is between R4 500 and R7 000.
Increase in unsecured lending Interest rates of 5% a month are charged, excluding a service charge of R50 a month and an initiation fee of a maximum of 15% on the value of the loan.
Collection fees for defaulters also apply. These are the maximum rates of interest and fees the National Credit Act allows.
In accordance with the national credit regulations, a maximum of R1 257.50 in interest and fees can be charged on a short-term loan of R1 000 – that is more than 25% a month, or 300% if annualised.
Rajeen Devpruth, manager of statistics at the regulator, said short-term loans are intended to be once-off transactions and therefore not calculated on an annualised basis.
Miners told the M&G they settle outstanding amounts at the end of the year using their annual bonuses. Two miners said the high cost of finance did not worry them. One said he could afford it. Both said their issue was with Lonmin – they wanted a minimum wage of R12 500 a month.
During a meeting with the banking industry in September 2012, Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan noted the rapid increase in unsecured lending, especially to low-income households. A pay slip or proof of employment is all that is required to secure a loan.
"It's easy to get a cash loan if you work on the mines. They just check your pay slip from the previous month," one rock drill operator said. "I don't think people go for cash loans because they are broke. It's the way they advertise themselves. It makes it seem so easy," another Lonmin employee said.
Don van Asperen, general manager for Tshelete, which owns three cash-loan stores in Marikana, said mine workers make up 90% of its clientele. These clients will often repay their debt and take out another loan immediately, or one to two weeks later. "Some take two or three loans out each month. It's a sad, vicious cycle," Van Asperen admits. "But that's just the culture around the mines."
Additional reporting by M&G's Lisa Steyn.