Mooinooi hangs tough

During the boom years Mooinooi in North West’s platinum belt was a thriving mining town, but now that the global financial crisis has led to a recession, it is dying on its feet.

The property market has bottomed out, small businesses are on the brink of collapse and thousands of mineworkers have lost their jobs. Lonmin is the only game in town and, with the plummeting plantinum price, its fortunes perfectly mirror those of the townsfolk.

“Mooinooi is Lonmin and Lonmin is Mooinooi,” explains Paul Labuschgagne, owner of the 42-bed Lagai Roi lodge, over breakfast.
“If something goes wrong with the mines it affects everybody here.”

Lonmin has 13 shafts in the area, mining platinum and palladium and, in smaller volumes, rhodium, gold, nickel and copper.

This belt between Rustenberg and Brits is the hardest hit mining area in South Africa. In only three months last year the platinum price fell by a staggering 68%—from US$2 290 to US$732.50. And as metals prices bombed out, the retrenchments started to pile up.

Thirty thousand jobs were shed in South Africa’s mining sector in the second half of 2008 alone and Lisiba Seshoka spokesperson for the National Union of Mineworkers says a further 30 000 have been lost this year. Another 20 000 job cuts are expected before the end of the year. That’s 16% of the sector’s national workforce.

Outside the International Ferro Metal South Africa mine near Mooinooi, the Mail & Guardian finds a group of about 20 unemployed mineworkers waiting in the hope of finding any kind of employment. Men such as Mighty Nkuna, who was retrenched from his job as a welder on the platinum mines last December, say they can’t give up. Every morning since January Nkuna has arrived to seek work, paying R15 a trip for transport from his home in Brits.

They wait in vain: the mine, which has retrenched 670 of its 920 staff since December, has ceased almost all mining activities.

The havoc wrought by such large-scale retrenchments on Mooinooi, a once bustling town with a population of less than 40 000, is devastating.

Andries Mlangeni was earning R3 500 working as an assistant surveyor at the International Ferro Metal South Africa mine before he lost his job in December 2008; his family now makes do with the R1 500 his wife earns as a domestic worker.

“We are not surviving on the money she makes, I am busy trying to get another job,” says Mlangeni. “I have a lot of bills to pay.”

Almost all the residents of the Majakenena and Wonderkop communities we spoke to say they’ve noticed more crime, prostitution and divorce in their villages since the mines started their retrenchment programmes.

Monica Hlalele from Majakenena village believes the abuse of alcohol is at the heart of the problem.

“That’s all they can do here, each and every cent they get,” says Hlalele. “The stress is too much so they relieve it by drinking, and when they are drinking obviously something bad is going to happen, like the raping.”

Thousands of migrant workers from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the Eastern Cape have already left the platinum belt since losing their jobs. The knock on effect on local business has been huge.

Both of Moonooi’s estate agents have closed their doors since the property market bottomed out and most business owners we spoke to reported a 30 to 40% decline in revenue since last year.

All are struggling to keep their businesses afloat and several say that were it not for the responsibility they feel towards their staff, they would have closed up already.

One business owner, who did not want to be named, says he’s already had to implement short hours for employees. “You can see that people are depressed,” he tells us, “we haven’t seen tough times like these since the 1980s.”

Marie Stoltz, owner of Stolla’s Take Away in the local shopping centre, says her business makes R20 000 less a month than it did at the same time last year—equivalent to about 30% of her turnover.

“It is only with help from above that this business will survive,” says Stoltz. “We are battling to keep it open.”

Stoltz says there’s no market for property sellers, though many townsfolk are desperate to pack up and try their luck elsewhere.

Wikus De Kock, who once ran one of two estate agencies in Mooinooi, has closed down. “There is no business,” he says flatly.

But De Kock says he has faith that Moonooi’s economy will survive, and has put his money where his mouth is: he is spec-building basic retail premises on the outskirts of the town.

Alberto Gouveia, who owns the local shopping centre, Spar, Total garage and Build It store, is confident that things will come right in Mooinooi. “Three months ago people were worrying a lot, but things are getting better, I was expecting worse.”

Gouveia says two businesses have closed down in the shopping centre in the past six months; one was a doctor’s practice, the other an estate agency. But De Kock and Gouveia’s optimism stand out as lone voices in a town that is struggling to survive this difficult chapter in its history.

Lloyd Gedye

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