OUR MEMBERS have come out 100 percent countrywide in support of the battle. All the main mine companies—AngloGold, Gold Fields, Harmony, South Deep—are stopped.
For us this is a crucial fight over pay and conditions. It is also a battle for dignity and for the right to be treated equally in a new South Africa.
At present the basic pay is 2,354 rand a month (about £220). We have called for a rise of between 10 and 12 percent but the bosses’ organisation, the Chamber of Mines, has offered only half of that increase.
Gold miners often have to descend more than 3 kilometres (nearly 2 miles) underground to drill ore in sweltering narrow tunnels.
It is a dangerous job and they they have a right to the fruits of their hard work.
We love this industry. We are part of it, but if some people live a lavish life while the mineworkers are disregarded, then it is time for struggle.
A key part of our claim is for a rise in allowances for accommodation.
Under apartheid mineworkers were forced to live in barracks, separated off from their families and their communities. Incredibly, a decade after the end of apartheid this system still exists.
Around three quarters of the mining workforce still live in the single-sex hostels.
AngloGold Ashanti says there are an average of six men per room in its hostels.
The NUM is pushing for the “living-out allowance” for finding family accommodation to be doubled.
The mining firms have offered only a 10 percent rise.
The hostels treat miners as sub-human.
They are a breeding ground for diseases like tuberculosis and they also create the social conditions in which normal relationships break down, prostitution flourishes and Aids spreads further.
The question of accommodation becomes a life and death issue.
This is the first industry wide strike for 18 years. In 1987 it took 21 days for us to win. We normally call it “21 days that shook the chamber”. This time we hope for a quicker settlement and victory.
The mining firms will be hit hard by our action.
Political conditions have been transformed since the 1987 strike, but we want to see justice and equality.
The gold companies say they are being pressed on their profits. But the gold price has risen from $250 an ounce in the years 1997 to 1999 to $420 an ounce today.
How can they be under great pressure? The weakening of the rand has also helped them, as they get paid in dollars but pay us in rands.
Over 33,000 mineworkers lost their jobs over the past two years as the gold industry was “restructured”. Last year miners accepted a very low increase, at the same time bosses’ pay continued to soar ahead.
We are not prepared to keep giving all the time without return.
Tuesday was a public holiday in South Africa. We were then waiting to see if the action would spread to include the 10,000 workers in Solidarity, an old white union, and another union as well.
We have to win this battle and send a message to mine employers across the country.
The NUM website is www.num.org.za