(This column is published on today’s Daily Dispatch newspaper)
Transkei born jazz singer, Simphiwe Dana, in her song called Nzima, laments the Marikana massacre, using Bawo Thixo Somandla, a traditional Xhosa lamentation choir song which is associated with the historical suffering of Africans. The video is as powerful as the lyrics: “God Almighty, what have we done, in this world/nation? We are bearing hardships!” She is dressed as a widow, only with short hair – a sign of mourning, re-enacting the traditional mourning practices of rural Eastern Cape people.
Dana may have grown up knowing mineworkers’ by name.
For as long as I have been alive, I have had numerous relatives who were mineworkers. One is in Marikana right now. This cycle of mineworkers has carried on for generations in much of rural EC. Some died in the mines. Some became ill or injured in those mines.
It is for this reason that I am convinced that Marikana should be a wakeup call for the EC community and for a caring EC government.
Marikana was devastating and still is. It is the most brutal massacre to happen in the new South Africa and I pray that it is the last. Marikana however should never have occurred and the Eastern Cape suffered the most.
The mining industry in SA historically has a poor record for miners’ safety, living and working conditions; this is without even looking at miners’ salaries. The International Labour Organisation’s criticism of the working conditions of miners at Lomnin came as no surprise when it listed “falling rocks, exposure to high temperatures and high fumes” to mention a few. Over and above these risky conditions in August 16, 2012 the striking miners faced bullets from police too.
The Bench Marks Foundation, which evaluates corporate social responsibility in the mining sector, states that “the benefits of mining are not reaching the workers or the surrounding communities.”
Anyone who has had family members or visited villages in the EC where a lot of miners’ families live, need not study any findings to know that this is true. The cycle of poverty only continues from one generation to the next. The mining industry, in my opinion, may employ an estimated 1 million SAns and add to the country’s GDP, but if the EC will ever stand on its own feet economically, the mining industry has proved to be no true friend. Can platinum or gold bring back lost brothers, husbands and fathers from the dead? This may be the moment to turn our backs from losing more of what we can never regain. Will the mining industry invest billions of rands to the Eastern Cape economy for having drained so many lives and for so long? It should.
The EC is not without untapped wealth. It has potential to be a tourism hotspot because of its joyful coastline and history, dating back to pre-colonial times.
Wandile Sihlobo, an economist at Grain SA, noted that the EC has potential to make a significant contribution to SA’s food security and economy. EC subsistence farmers, particularly in the former Transkei region, must realise their potential as strong participants in mainstream commercial maize farming.
The EC coastal region is not only a tourism attraction, the government has projected that there is an underexplored ocean economy in SA, which has the potential to contribute R177 billion to the country’s GDP.
Should the government take this up with the urgency of the 2010 World Cup, what would prevent an influx of those who once looked to the gold mines to return closer to the golden coastlines?
Let us make a monument of Marikana by building the EC economy. Otherwise, our people will continue to lament, singing Dana’s Nzima (hardship), over lost miners whose work enrich a few billionaires, at the cost of their lives.