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Platinum town gripped by fear and hunger

Molaole Montsho

People staying near platinum mines in Rustenburg in the North West are starving and living in fear.

People staying near platinum mines in Rustenburg in the North West are starving and living in fear.

"Our lives are in danger. It is peaceful during the day but when the sun sets we wonder who will be next," says Agrippa Phiri.

He is one of the few people who risked returning to work amid an extended strike at the platinum mines. His shack in Mfidikwe was petrol bombed on Tuesday night.

"I was asleep when I heard a loud bang on the kitchen window. I saw a ball of fire. I heard three gunshots.

"The bullets went into the mattress just beneath my children."

Phiri, a former member of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), said he left the union and had encouraged people to go back to work.

"People are starving. They do not have money to buy food. We cannot wait for something that we are not sure will materialise."

No budge
Members of Amcu at Lonmin, Impala and Anglo Platinum mines in Rustenburg and Northam in Limpopo went on strike on January 23 demanding a minimum salary of R12 500 per month.

They rejected the companies' wage increase offer of 9%.

The union revised its demand by proposing that R12 500 be phased in over four years but the companies rejected this, saying it amounted to a 30% year-on-year increase.

Anglo American Platinum and Lonmin have sent force majeure notices to some suppliers of goods and services to its strike-affected operations.

A force majeure notice is used to exempt parties from their contractual obligations, usually due to causes that could not be anticipated or were beyond their control.

Unaffordable
Lonmin CEO Ben Magara said the current wage demand by Amcu was unaffordable.

"I feel for the challenges they [mineworkers] are going through ... We are working hard but it is difficult ... the demand is unaffordable," he said.

"The world is watching us take each other into poverty ... We need to accept the realities."

Another villager, Tebogo Moropa, said life had changed completely since the beginning of the strike.

"It is bad, so bad that you do not trust your own shadow. We do not go out at night anymore. It is too risky.

"You must always look over your shoulder to see if you are followed. It is no longer safe and people are either killed or will die of hunger."

He said it was safer to live in town than in the township.

"It is too dangerous here. You do not know you will be alive the next day."

'Attacked'
The regional secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in Rustenburg, Sydwell Dolokwana, said violence and intimidation had increased since the beginning of the strike.

"Our members are prevented from going to work. Six NUM shop stewards have been attacked and their property burnt."

Dolokwana said people on the ground wanted to go to work but feared for their lives.

"Their cars are being repossessed. They defaulted in their bonds and other monthly bills."

The Rustenburg municipality said the strike was negatively impacting the socio-economy of the city.

"In the long run people will not be able to pay for their water and electricity accounts because they do not have income. They will not be able to buy a loaf of bread," said spokesperson Thapelo Matebesi.

Business suffers
Shopkeeper Alex Munmudro said business was down 80% since the strike.

"Business is down. People want credit. I cannot refuse to give them food on credit. They supported me for a long time. They do not have money now."

He said he had given out stock worth between R15 000 and R20 000 on credit.

"I am not sure I will get my money back."

A few metres from Munmudro's shop, Peter Payethu (22) runs a car wash business.

"Things are bad. I have not see a car here in week now. People no longer wash their cars here. I do not have money to buy food. The strike harms us even though we are not working in the mines," said Payethu.

Rustenburg, situated at the foot of the Magaliesberg mountain range, is rich in platinum.

Platinum mining began in 1929, shortly after the discovery of the Platinum Reef by Hans Merensky, later named the Merensky Reef. – Sapa

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