By Zanele Lwana and Lindsay Maasdorp
As Zama-Zama miners continue to die at the hands of an anti black system, all the big interests including the Portfolio Committee on Mining are calling for more vigilant policing as a resolution of the problem. Is this not the same attitude that denies the root cause of the problem in this respect – racialized and colonized mining – that has led to the deaths of inter alia 44 miners in Marikana in 2012, 86 miners at the Harmony Gold mine just before that and 29 Zama Zamas at a number of mine shafts in early September last year? OnMonday, 28 September 2015 the bodies of five more Zama Zamas were found just outside the “disused” Grootvlei mine in Gauteng. The racial persecution of the Zama Zamas continues to date. The denial of the root cause of the problem allows for the continuation of the same racist capitalist relations that results is the death of black miners in their numbers. Instead we are told by white capital and the government that the problem is one of criminality!
Mining as the core of the racist capitalist South African economy is an area where the desperation of blacks is the most exploited. The mining industry is the most violent industry in the world and to this end South Africa with it’s 150 years mining legacy of black exclusion leads in this respect. As with all other industries under racial capitalism – the more wealth the industry of mining generates for white capital the more excluded and impoverished are the black miners (the real owners) rendered. The ANC government as managers of white capital are unwilling to chart a path of revolutionizing mining in a way that will benefit all of society.
“Zama Zamas” – those miners who function independently and above the “legalized” system of gold mining – are the politically legitimate miners who are able to earn a living that is above starvation wages within a neo liberal system of governance. Their mode of employment involves them descending, for weeks at a time, into hazardous disused mines so as to remove the gold-bearing ore and trade it in the market.
South Africa’s gold mines are notorious for being about the deepest and the most dangerous in the world. These mines are generally unsafe resulting in part from the ancient methods used which have remained intact for the entire period of mining thus far. To this end explosives are used to blast rocks so as to extract the gold. The Zama Zamas evidently use the same method only difference is that they have hardly any safety, health and communications measures in place.
In 9 January 2009 it was reported on the website of the Department of Mineral Resources that more than 54,000 miners have lost their lives in mine accidents in South Africa since reporting started in 1904. In 2013 and 2014, 93 and 84 miners were killed respectively in mines. On the years leading up to 2013 mine deaths averaged 100 annually. Evidently many more have died as a result of being exposed to hazardous fumes, gas and dust. Moreover there were 6 810 miners who were recorded to have contracted various occupational diseases in 2013. To this end the gold sector has reported the highest number of occupational diseases as compared to the other sectors.
None of the political parties have generated any kind of outcry when the Zama Zamas were killed or trapped in mines. This is so because many of the Zama Zamas are reportedly black Zimbabweans. To this end they are not important enough for political parties because in the game of parliamentary elections the hopelessness of people translates into good political dividends in terms of votes only if the people are South Africans.
The workers movement too has generally had very little response to the killings and ill treatment of the Zama Zama miners. In this regard there has not been any public campaigns to have these miners rescued when trapped in the past. The workers movement has joined the government and the mining houses in abandoning the interests of the Zama Zama miners in particular and that of the informally organised workers generally. In so doing it has corrupted the overall revolutionary ideals of black working class interests.
BLF’s immediate call is for the Zama Zama miners:
~ to be incorporated by the State into legal standing and recognition;
~ to be regularized and get the necessary subsidization, and;
~ to get the necessary health, safety, communications and security protection.
Furthermore, BLF calls for an end to black on black violence through unity of black miners.
Zanele Lwana and Lindsay Maasdorp are both BLF Spokespersons