Lesson from Musina: treat mineworkers well: iLIVE
In my teenage years, the Musina copper mine, in Limpopo , was the economic heart of the town. Workers at the Venetia mine, especially married ones, had decent brick and mortar homes. They had wash rooms and toilets, even if they were communal.
This mine was depleted in the late 1980s and subsequently shut down, leaving many families destitute and poor.
Fortunately, De Beers had successfully prospected for diamonds next to the Mapungubwe Heritage Site, near to the small rural town of Alldays. The company wanted to base its administration offices at Alldays and source labour from in and around Alldays, 37km from the mine.
But Alldays' conservative local authorities rejected De Beers' offer to build the offices in their area.
Apparently, they objected to De Beers building racially integrated residential areas for employees.
So the Musina municipality hosted De Beers' Venetia mine administration offices -87km from the mine operations.
This was a good and timely replacement of the copper mine lost to the town.
De Beers took over the old copper mine administration offices and began acquiring land with the help of the municipality, servicing the land and building decent family homes for their married employees and townhouses for their single employees.
I do not know of any Venetia mine employee, even the most junior, who lives in a shack in Musina.
Venetia employees probably need to earn more, but there is no family with a Venetia employee among them that is destitute.
They live normal, middle- income lifestyles, able to feed their families, send their children to school and clothe them, and pay bills.
In fact, Venetia mine is the highest-paying employer in Musina by far.
I hold no brief for De Beers.
What I am relating is a real-life experience of the community of Musina, positively affected by the presence of mining operations.
Part of the frustration of mining communities such Lonmin's Marikana and others is that mines do very little to alleviate the miserable living conditions of their workers.
Apart from the wage issues, mining companies must, as part of their social and economic compacts, assist both local and provincial governments in the provision of basic services such as potable drinking water, subsidise domestic electricity infrastructure, health facilities, education resources and bursaries and employ local labour.
Mining companies such as Lonmin, the world's third-largest producer of platinum, can afford to do these things.
If it doesn't, populist calls for the nationalisation of mines will find resonance with mineworkers because their lives have not changed for the better.
Populist leaders will easily mobilise underpaid and over-worked workers and the surrounding communities, as was the case in Marikana.
The Chamber of Mines must ensure that mines pay a living wage and contribute to improving living conditions for both the workers and the communities, from whose natural resources they make huge profits for their investors.
Conditions of squalor and abject poverty in surrounding mining communities are breeding grounds for the violence we have seen at Marikana.
The Venetia mine approach may in part contribute to avoiding the shameful labour conflict at Marikana.