Finding solution for mining

Thursday, October 16, 2014

By Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Performance, Monitoring, Evaluation and Administration, Jeff Radebe

Mining, a key sectors of our economy, has in recent times been going through some difficulties. The Mining Sector National Consultative Forum stakeholders agreed that we all have to work hard to build a stable industry.

In the South African context, mining evokes images of men and women entering a dark labyrinth deep underground to extract the precious metal within. For decades generation upon generation of miners have toiled in the most inhospitable conditions to bring the prized ore to the surface.

Most of this ore lies  far below the surface in so-called deep level mines.  In essence this means that despite new technologies, mining still relies heavily on people to extract ore. 

Mining has played an integral part in the development of South Africa since the first diamonds were found in the Orange River in 1867. The subsequent gold rushes which followed forever changed the history of our country and propelled South Africa as a global player in the mining industry. 

The growth of the industry however came at a great cost to miners, their families and their communities. The mining sector was viewed by many as a symbol of global oppression under colonial and apartheid rule.    

Although the heyday of mining has passed and its contribution to our gross domestic product has decreased, it still plays a major role in our country, both through employment and foreign earnings.

While there has been much change over the years, the working and living conditions of miners remains much too harsh. Some of this is due to the nature of the job which requires miners to work in unbearably hot, noisy and cramped spaces. 

However, the main cause is linked to the apartheid legacy of most miners not living in areas where they work.  The so-called migrant labour system provided a flow of cheap labour that allowed the gold and platinum sectors to flourish.  This system has led to many social problems, both in mining communities and in the homes of miners.

It would be fair to say that this issue remains challenging after 20 years of democracy.  It remains a source of bitterness and is one of the root causes of the labour unrest in mining. 

Earlier this month, President Jacob Zuma convened the Mining Sector National Consultative Forum to look at problematic issues in the mining industry.

The main objective of the forum was to discuss the implementation of the Framework Agreement for a Sustainable Mining Industry, which was entered into by government, organised business and organised labour in 2013 to ensure the sustainability of the mining industry.

Addressing the forum, President Zuma said: “We are here because we all believe in finding solutions and in strengthening the country’s mining sector.”

Government is aware that achieving this will require all parties to commit to sustainable and lasting solutions.  Chief among them is to ensure the rule of law and peace and stability in mining communities.  This goes hand in hand with a labour relations system which better serves all parties.

There has been notable progress since the framework agreement was signed in 2013. Mine Crime Combating Forums have been established in all affected communities in the provinces of North West, Limpopo, Free State, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

Mine security structures are working closely with organised labour and the South African Police Service to improve the investigation of crimes on mines, and visible policing in crime hotspots within affected communities has been significantly enhanced, with security patrols at villages and hostels. This has led to a substantial reduction in illegal and violent protest actions, and an improvement in peace and stability.

Both the mines and the unions have conducted a series of training programmes for workers on labour relations issues and on financial literacy to address, amongst others, the indebtedness of employees.

A general Labour Relations Indaba is also planned for next month.  It will address challenging labour relations issues, including collective bargaining in the platinum sector.

We are aware that ultimately solutions must better the lives of miners and their communities.  Therefore the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Revitalisation of Distressed Mining Communities has identified 14 mining towns to improve housing and living conditions.

A total of R2.1 billion has been made available in the medium term and has been ring-fenced for housing project implementation in mining towns. A total of R290 million has been approved for informal settlement upgrading for the 2014/2015 period in the mining towns in Mpumalanga, North West, Gauteng, Northern Cape, Limpopo and Free State. Although these projects are still in their infancy, the Department of Human Settlements has reported significant progress with projects in identified areas.

We are convinced that these three interventions will go a long way to restoring the dignity of mineworkers and will improve their lives.   However, they are ultimately just one part of a very complex puzzle.  

The global economic downturn which began in 2009 is yet to be fully addressed.  Economies throughout the world remain fragile and the demand for platinum and other minerals continues to fluctuate in line with slow global growth.

Therefore short, medium and long term measures are essential to support growth and stability.  The mining industry has been the mainstay of our economy since 1867 and can continue to play a major role in years to come. 

All role players in the sector would undoubtedly agree on the need for a strong and vibrant mining sector that contributes to growth and creates jobs, but also ensures decent living and working conditions for miners.

Achieving this will require all role players to work together towards sustainable solutions that benefit all parties. The government stands ready to walk hand in hand with our partners in business and labour so that we can together move South Africa forward.