Mining for gold, dicing with death

At the time of writing on Thursday, the bodies of 76 illegal miners had been brought to the surface at Harmony Gold’s Eland shaft in Welkom.

Had these been legal miners, this would have been treated as a disaster, but it is instead being seen as a criminal matter by the mining company and the government. Like cable thieves, not many tears will be shed for the deceased, outside of their families. Making a living from a dangerous and illegal activity is your own business and if you get caught or die in the attempt, there will be little public outcry.

But what of these miners—according to some reports they number in the thousands—who continue to risk their lives in pursuit of gold? Many of them work in a warren of tunnels under Welkom, and it is apparently possible to walk underground for more than 35km.
Many of the miners are also said to come from Lesotho, which suggests they will do anything to escape the grinding poverty in their own country.

Are they, as Mining Minister Susan Shabangu and others maintain, working for syndicates? Miners can earn as little as R4 000 a month, and will be tempted by an offer of half that to assist in the illegal operations.

The disaster also shows that one of the largest gold mining companies in the world does not have control over its disused shafts. Until the shafts are secured and legal miners are paid better, it appears there will be little change in the status quo.

Meanwhile, as the gold price edges towards $1 000 an ounce, unions have rejected a 6% pay increase offer by the Chamber of Mines, calling it a “pittance”. The National Union of Mineworkers is demanding a 15% pay rise and said it would not settle for anything less.

For its part, the Chamber said its latest offer signalled an improvement over the last one and included increases in benefits.

FULL SPEED AHEAD NOT SO FAST
Barack Obama
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Annanias Mathe was this week convicted on 64 of the 71 charges he faced, which included rape, attempted murder and housebreaking. The judge described his behaviour as “vicious and abnormal”. Behind bars is where this man belongs.

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May 28 to June 3 2009

1. SABC lays charges of ‘theft’ over Zapiro doccie
The South African Broadcasting Corporation has laid a charge of “stolen property” after the Mail & Guardian Online posted an episode of Special Assignment on political satire on the web.

2. Zuma’s judges dilemma
It may be the most urgent question facing President Jacob Zuma: whether to use his powers of appointment to rein in the courts, where he has faced his most difficult battles, or to facilitate the rebuilding of an independent judiciary from the wreckage of the ANC’s succession battles.

3. Zim continues with crackdown on white farmers
President Robert Mugabe’s controversial “land reform programme” took a new twist on Wednesday when a court ordered the eviction of a man who is not a farmer.

  4. Zille learning to behave, says Mbete
It was not a good idea for Western Cape Premier Helen Zille to behave as if she was going to secede from South Africa, African National Congress (ANC) chairperson Baleka Mbete said on Wednesday night.

5. Businessman offers Zuma R1-billion to fight crime
A businessman intends offering President Jacob Zuma R1-billion to fight crime, the Sunday Independent reported. 

6. At last, bandwidth
The quiet tourist area of Mtunzini, 140km north of Durban on the North Coast, boasts scenic beaches, great bird watching, a nine-hole golf course, and the most internet bandwidth in South Africa.

7. State of the Nation: Zuma has little to offer
In his first State of the Nation address it was obvious that President Jacob Zuma had, owing to the dire economic climate South Africa finds itself in, little to offer.

8. Brazil navy races to pull Air France wreck from sea
Brazilian navy divers rushed on Wednesday to reach the wreckage of an Air France jet and start the grim job of pulling debris from the Atlantic Ocean, where the plane with 228 people went down in the the airline’s worst disaster in its 75-year history.

9. ‘Secret agent’ Vivian Reddy
A prominent benefactor of President Jacob Zuma, Durban businessman Vivian Reddy, has been drawn into a row about commissions paid by an Australian bank-note company to its agents around the world.

10. Putting paid to political debt
Is this President Jacob Zuma’s dream team? Among the five advisers he appointed this week are an ANC loyalist who has never served in Parliament and two failed former Cabinet ministers.

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