IN A recent column, (ANC the victim of its own success, April 11) I likened the problem of perceived failed service delivery faced by the African National Congress government to the biblical story of Moses being taken by God to see the Promised Land. Though he could look, he wasn’t able to enjoy the benefits.
The Marikana saga is exactly this. It is a deep-seated sociological problem that has its origins as far back as the start of the mining industry in 1867, when Cecil John Rhodes arranged to impose the hut tax, so forcing black men onto the mines. This "arrangement" has been reinforced in different guises at varying intervals — job reservation, migrant labour, single-men-only accommodated in army-type barracks, devolving finally into the grant of a living-out allowance that actually leaves those receiving it worse off.
The living-out allowance was a method employed by the industry to avoid the expense of converting hostels into acceptable accommodation for single and married employees. So what do the men do? They build shanty huts outside the mine gates and they are joined by prostitutes, shebeen owners, taxi drivers and the unemployed. The mines say the problem is the municipalities’; the municipalities say it belongs to the mines; the police won’t remove the shanty towns on mine property.
The result is a systemic problem of potentially stupefying proportions. The mining industry is the base of this country’s economy, even now in its waning years. What it does, how it is treated and how it treats those who depend upon it, the government included, reverberates throughout the country. The frustration that has built up over decades is insisting on being noticed. Those "We demand R12,500" posters are simply a convenient rallying cry.
What needs to happen, and isn’t, is for all the constituencies involved in the industry to engage in a meaningful manner to grasp the dimensions of the problem. The blame game won’t work; recognising the problems and coming up with sensible solutions may succeed.
I have been struck by the silence that has characterised the Marikana tragedy. The premier of the North West has been conspicuously absent; Mining Minister Susan Shabangu just keeps pointing fingers at the industry; Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant bangs on about employment equity and defending Woolies; the Chamber of Mines has been struck down with severe laryngitis.
SA is supposed to be a constitutional democracy. It follows, or it should, that no-one should be frightened to voice opinions, even if they run counter to conventional thinking. This is why dialogue is now of such paramount importance. The sooner the government, industry, labour, and civil society get together to speak directly and honestly to each other the better it will be.
Meanwhile, the platinum mines have a devilish problem to resolve. The owners and the government need to get the mines back to full output. But they can’t, or shouldn’t, negotiate with a phantasmagorical collection of thousands of apparently leaderless miners; they can’t go outside the established labour framework because doing so would set the precedent of succumbing to wildcat strikes. This would spread across the economy like wildfire.
And the rate at which costs have risen across the platinum mines has been so significant that large portions of areas previously considered minable must now fall into the "unpay" category. Mining may have to be withdrawn from whole sections and some shafts may have to close.
The effect will be nothing short of disastrous. The first release of the findings from the initial efforts of the Mining Dialogues 360° initiatives revealed that every person employed on a mine subsidises 26 others. So, if 1,000 miners are retrenched, 26,000 people are immediately affected to a greater or lesser extent. Imagine the industry concluding that the only way to survive will be to retrench, say, between 8,000 and 12,000 workers.
Will the next government find it any easier to resolve the problem? No. It will be faced with a lower tax base, continuing balance of payments difficulties, a declining currency and mounting inflation. We are all on this bus. It is going downhill and the road bends and twists unexpectedly. The brakes have failed. Who is driving the bus? "The Mouth" Malema, and he doesn’t have a driving licence. Someone had better take over — quickly.
FIRST National Bank chief economist Cees Bruggemans e-mailed me to say I misread the stats quoted in the Reserve Bank’s quarterly bulletin dealing with the current account deficit. The number I used for the second quarter was "annualised", he says.
He’s right. The bulletin does say "R billions, seasonally adjusted and annualised". I apologise. But my concern remains. As Econometrix put it: "In absolute terms the R200bn 2nd qtr current account deficit was by far the largest such deficit for any quarter ever recorded."
I’M A little late with this story but it’s sufficiently encouraging to give it a mention. It is, in fact, an example of how a public-private partnership can work for the good of a community.
Ouma Greyvenstein first started producing her rusks in 1929 on a farm near Molteno in the Eastern Cape. Over time, the business landed in Foodcorp’s basket and last year it moved ever closer to transferring the operation to Randfontein. CEO Justin Williamson said Ouma was constantly being disrupted by power cuts — 91 last year alone — poor quality water and lousy roads.
Instead, a public-private partnership was established between Foodcorp, the Inkwanca municipality, the Eastern Cape government and Eskom. Foodcorp is investing R47m in a new factory in Molteno; the Eastern Cape government and Inkwanca have committed R6m; Eskom is supplying power directly (R700,000), and a new water purification plant (R2m) is being installed.
Williamson says the decision to expand at Molteno was "moral". The new plant will cost R7m more than in Gauteng; in addition, Gauteng is Ouma’s principal market (70%), so it is sacrificing certain economic benefits. But 250 jobs and the Molteno community have been rescued.