Mining strike hangover lingers painfully
Pay cheques are in but many business owners will struggle to recover from the five-month platinum mine wage dispute.
It’s late on a lazy winter afternoon but the streets of Marikana are bustling with foot traffic. Makeshift tables are piled high with fresh fruit and vendors wait for flush customers returning from the long queues at Capitec and Ubank with their back pay.
The five-month-long miners’ strike, which crippled the platinum industry and stifled the local economy, came to an end on June 23. As the mines gear up toward full production, money begins to trickle back into the local economy.
But for some it is simply too little, too late.
A cheery drunk man staggers down a busy side street where the steel door of Tshelete Cash Loans store has been rolled down and locked over the shop entrance for a few weeks now. A local doctor’s doors also remain closed and an electronics store on the main road, locals say, shut up shop almost as soon as the strike began.
“Some businesses were forced to close their doors and leave,” says Anne Trusler, a consultant to the newly revived Rustenburg Business Chamber. “It’s very hard for some people to talk about it. It’s like hanging out your dirty linen for everyone to see,” she said.
The owner of Thepa Engineering in Mooinooi, Sidney Litlhakanyane, was dependent on one of the affected platinum mines for contract work.
“I put all my eggs in one basket,” said Litlhakanyane, dressed neatly in a dove-grey suit. He is talking to the Mail & Guardian from the office of Shanduka Black Umbrellas, where he rents a desk and a phone line.
With no work for five months, he sold everything he could to meet his financial obligations.
In May he sold his Jeep Cherokee, opting to retain his work bakkie. He off-loaded industrial equipment worth R43 000 for R595 because it was difficult to dispose of. Televisions and a chest freezer were some of the first items out of the door.
Litlhakanyane cashed out every investment and retirement policy he had and maxed out his credit card before turning to family for handouts.
Of the five people involved in the formerly flourishing engineering firm, only two, Litlhakanyane and his wife, remain. “Two [employees] are sitting at home and the one went back to Mozambique. In fact, I still owe them money,” he said.
Dependent on the mines
Pana Xhalabile, founder of Generations Business Enterprise, had three canteens at one of the platinum companies and depended on the mines for business.
She was able to hang on, only just. As the strike dragged on month after month and her business turned over less than 20% of what it usually would, her employees’ salaries were halved.
“I really didn’t expect it to last this long. The end of July was my last. I was going to pack up and go home,” she said.
Xhalabile, who supports two children and her elderly mother, racked up a significant amount of debt, exhausted her credit card and her bank account overdraft, and eventually borrowed cash where she could.
She expects it will take another few months before her business and personal balance sheets are back to the state they were in before the strike began in January.
The strike also affected the taxi industry, which experienced half its usual business over the period.
“They were working at a loss, especially because of the high petrol price,” said Simon Seakamela, spokesperson for the Northern Regional Taxi Council, which represents 22 taxi associations encompassing about 7 000 vehicles.
“About 60% of our members are in arrears with their vehicle payments [and] quite a few members’ cars were repossessed,” he said.
One such member is Thelli Meshack Monwametsi, who has been involved in the taxi industry since 1979.
He parked his vehicles at his house when the strike began. Because he had practically no income and was responsible for the care of a disabled child, Monwametsi was unable to make the necessary payments on the vehicles.
Two of his six vehicles were repossessed and consequently two of his drivers are now out of a job. Revenue is still not back to normal.
“One taxi usually brings in R700 a day. Now it is still R400 or R300, but I hope to go and get my vehicles back by the end of August.”