/ 28 June 2007

Report: Migrant workers miss out in SA platinum boom

South Africa’s platinum boom has given rise to mushrooming informal settlements by migrant labourers around mines, posing serious health, social and environmental risks to communities, a new report says.

The world’s two biggest platinum producers, AngloPlat and Implats, have announced multibillion-rand expansion plans, but a report by the church-sponsored Bench Marks Foundation this week said many miners, especially contract workers, are falling through the cracks.

”Due to migrant labour and a lack of housing opportunities in the mine surroundings, workers have settled in shacks,” the report says. They have no access to sewage disposal facilities, refuse removal, electricity or piped water. ”An estimate of over 250 000 people live in informal settlements around the mining town of Rustenburg.”

Permanent mine workers get medical care, including Aids treatment, but this does not apply to growing numbers of workers at the mines working for contractors.

HIV/Aids infection levels in the informal settlements are at 60%, far above the average of 20% in the rest of North West province, the report says.

”Mine workers that are employed by subcontractors do not have access to the healthcare facilities at the mines,” said Reverend John Capel, executive director of the foundation, which seeks to promote corporate social responsibility. ”This implies a serious inequality existing in the mines as contract workers neither appear in HIV/Aids statistics nor are they entitled to get any kind of medicine, including antiretroviral treatment.”

Environmental damage

The report faults companies for not paying close enough attention to the effects of waste dams and air pollution on surrounding communities.

”The study found that nothing is said by the mines in any of their reports of the proximity of villages and informal settlements to major waste facilities such as slimes dams and tailing dams,” the foundation said. ”Due to the increasing number of platinum smelters in the area, carbon-dioxide and sulphur-dioxide emissions have increased, resulting in a dramatic increase in respiratory infections.”

Part of the problem is a lack of capacity in local governments to monitor the effect of mining on surface water, the report says.

”Communities surrounding the mines and the mine workers have been hoodwinked into believing that what is being done for them by the mines is sufficient,” Jo Seoka, chairperson of the foundation, said in a news release about the report.

Angloplat said in a statement that it had provided information to researchers and that the report was largely balanced and factual, but the news release was not. It took issue with some remarks about worker safety, including allegations that many workers suffered from silicosis, a respiratory disease caused by inhaling silica.

”Platinum mines do not cause silicosis. These workers have come with pre-existing silicosis from other mines and Anglo Platinum provides them with healthcare,” it said.

Last week, Angloplat acknowledged that fatalities had risen this year and closed its largest mine for about seven days to improve the situation.

Over the previous two weeks, five employees lost their lives at the Rustenburg mine operations, bring the total fatalities to 12 there so far this year, it had said.

Songezo Mzibi, spokesperson for Xstrata, said the firm welcomed the report and recommendations. Even though it had some inaccuracies, Mzibi said the recommendations fell in line with many of the things the company was doing to address the issues.