“Why, Zuma, why?”

Junie 1, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

You see it in their eyes. The hope is gone.

No, says, Gert Harmse, it’s not all gone. He still has hope. Some days more than others, but yes, there still is hope.

Hope, it seems, is the only thing the miners from Aurora, the infamous mine in Grootvlei on the outskirts of Springs near Johannesburg have left. Salaries are something they can only dream about. At the time of my visit, the mine still owed the 4 000 miners their salaries for March, April and May, as well as 40% of their February salaries.

Hope is the last thing these desperate people have to lose. They have already lost their dignity, some their homes, others their cars. Or families. Recently, says Gert, many of his colleagues had to start taking their pets to the SPCA. “One guy had to give his African Grey parrot away. Give it away! You know what he paid for that parrot two years ago? R2 500! But he can’t afford the birdseed anymore.”

Fortysomething Gert, and his wife Violet, it seems, are a bit luckier. At least they still have their two dogs and the grey-and-white cat. But for how long?

Violet fears the day they lose their home. They bought the house, their first, four years ago.

“Where will we go if they tell us to move out?” she asks.

“We will have to go and camp under those trees,” chuckles Gert, pointing to some eucyluptus trees on the pavement. But his joke scarcely hides the desperation, the frustration and the anxiety Aurora’s management caused him and his colleagues.

Marriages are falling apart as a result of it. “I know of at least two guys whose wives started divorce-proceedings,” says Gert, the Aurora-representative for the trade union Solidarity.

As Solidarity’s representative he is in the precarious position of informing union members of management’s decisions. He has about 150 union members to report to.

But, alas, it seems that even union representatives are kept in the dark as far as what’s really going on at Aurora. And those in the know, it seems, are blaming it on the liquidators. The owners of the mine, ironically the son of current president Jacob Zuma and Zondwa Mandela, grandson of former president Mandela, is keeping mum while the situation  is getting more and more desperate by the day for the workers.

For the hundreds of black workers living in the mine’s hostels the situation is even more bleak. Water to the mine has been cut off, as the mine owes millions of rands to Water Affairs. Hostel residents have to carry their water from town. They refuse to go home, scared that the mine will simply not pay them if they are not there when (and if) salaries are paid out. But many have grown tired of waiting, and returned to their homes and families in the rural areas with the last bit of money they had.

Those that stayed behind live in dire surroundings. At least three deaths have been reported in the hostels.   

“Valued workers? What value do they really attach to us?” asks Violet while reading one of mine management’s letters to the workers. The letter outlines the different dates on which Aurora’s “valued employees” will receive their salaries for February, March and April. Unfortunately, the dates have come and gone without payments being made.

Gert tells of a man who wanted to commit suicide by jumping off the gate at 4Shaft, the shaft where he works. “He couldn’t handle all the pressure anymore,” he explains simply. “Luckilly one of the other workers alerted his co-workers, and they could talk him out of it.” He can’t tell us if the man still lives in Springs. Many people have left, some even leaving behind homes full of furniture because they don’t have the money or means to transport it. And nobody wants to buy it.

“The pawnshops here are overstocked. They are turning people away who wants to pawn things to buy food.”

Luckilly Solidarity’s Helping Hand is handing out food parcels weekly. On Thursdays, Gert and Violet explains, one can briefly forget about the dire situation. “We drink coffee together at the church, and they serve us a cooked meal and for a while we don’t have to think about everything.”

Every Thursday there are new faces in the food queue. Lately even people who he never expected to see there. “Distinguished people”, he calls some of the new faces. People who were, up to now, too proud to show that they are barely scraping through.

But unemployment is a big equaliser, and once the initial shyness wears off, they all can talk and speculate together on what the outcome of Aurora’s liquidation will be. This week the talk would probably center on the alleged Chinese bid for the mine that the liquidators received.

What do they miss the most?

Enough money for the house and the car and some petrol, says Violet. “If I only have that, I can go without money for the rest of the month.”

They need petrol to take their daughter to work. If she can’t work, there will be no money in the household. But it’s hard to look her in the eyes for petrol money, admits Gert. “My children always looked up to me. For everything. Money as well. Now I can’t even care for my family.”

He thinks the hardest part of this all is the damage to one’s self-image. But he has to stay positive. For his family, for the other workers and for his own health. “At least we are some of the luckier ones. We haven’t had to eat pap for seven days in a row yet. Some of the people only have pap. Sometimes with sugar, sometimes with eggs.”

“The men all tell me that they can still bear it during the week. Everybody is at work, and it sometimes seems as if everything is normal. But weekends, when you smell your neighbour’s braaivleis, those are the worst times…”

On the other side of town lives Ben (44) and Christel van Niekerk. They have been married for 25 years.

Ben used to be shiftforeman. He had literally 100 people working under him, Gert explains on the way there.

Now Ben and his wife lives in Christel’s elderly parents’ lounge.

 “Sorry for this,” Ben apologises when inviting us in. He takes a seat on the bed, clearly uncomfortable about having to receive us in the cramped room.

Ben’s face tells his story. Frustration, anger and hope must have left some time ago. He is clearly defeated, yet he still goes to work every day as he is on what is called the care and maintenance team for the mine. And every now and again one can see a faint glimmer of the proud man he must have been not so long ago.

“We must ensure that everything stays in working order for the day when the mine starts operating again.”

Why does he still go to work despite not being paid? Because, he explains, this sort of thing has happened once before. When the mine formerly known as Pamodzi was in financial trouble a year or two ago, workers also had to go without salaries for some time, but then everything was paid and all was well.

After all, he has worked for this same mine since 1986. It is the only life he knows, the mine for which he encouraged his son to work as well. And now this… both of them unemployed. Luckilly the son and his young wife could move in with her grandparents.

Ben lost his BMW – “it would have been paid off by the end of this year” –  his house, his dignity.  He has had a job offer, but had to turn it down as he doesn’t have any means of transport. He now applied for another job, about 80km away, and thinks he has a good chance of getting it because of his vast experience. It will mean a drop in status – he won’t be foreman anymore, just a normal worker – but he is willing to do anything. There is just one big problem: how will he make the daily commute of 160km without any transport? (There is no housing facilities at the new mine, nor any public transport between the two towns.)

Until a new job comes along, all he has left is Aurora. But it concerns him deeply that he and his team are currently working without being covered by any life insurance. “If something happens to me tomorrow, my wife will not be looked after.”

Even if he was in the position to officialy resign, it wouldn’t mean much financially. On paper he has a lot of leave not taken, potential money, but even the provident fund forms part of the liquidation. In other words, everything Ben and Gert and all the others have worked for all these years, means nothing. They will have to start from scratch.

If they can start again.

Ben, like Gert, is grateful for Helping Hand’s food parcels and for Solidarity’s involvement in the process. And for the warm meal the local church provides every week. And, of course, for his parents-in-law for the roof over his head. But this is not where he wanted to be at this stage of his life. “I am past humiliation,” he says softly.

Kobus Jansen van Rensburg (35) had to sell his car to pay some rent and electricity on his humble house in Grootvlei’s mining village. But still, that wasn’t enough. He shows us the SMS he received an hour or two before our arrival with Gert.

It says that the outstanding amount of R20 238, 35 is payable by 16h00 that day. Failure to do so, will result in the electricity to the house being cut and an eviction notice being served.

The letters that Aurora mine’s management issued to their workers to show to banks and other creditors, is of no value whatsoever. “They simply tell us they are tired of our stories,” Gert explains.

If Kobus and his wife Karlien lose their home, they have nowhere to turn. In the same month that the financial trouble started at Aurora, they took in Karlien’s brother and his family. Between the two families there are five children, the youngest a baby born with hydrocephalus (too much fluid on the brain), and currently awaiting lifesaving surgery.

Four lively children bounce into the lounge to come and greet all the people. The youngest is six and in grade 0, thanks to a pre-school sponsorship. Karlien tells how his grandfather once gave him R5 to buy sweets with. “No, Oupa,” he said, “I’ll rather keep it and buy Mommy and Daddy a loaf of bread.”

“The children are not stupid,” says Kobus.

The 9-year old excells at chess. “He played for Gauteng last year,” explains Karlien, proudly. But even getting him to and from school is a problem. “It is about 10km away, and to walk there and back is tiresome for them.”  If she can get a lift for them, they go to school. If not, they stay and fall more and more behind.

“My son came home the other day, crying. Because the other children made fun of the food parcel he receives from the school,” Karlien recalls, tears welling up in her eyes.

Kobus is tired of people asking him why he doesn’t go and look for another job. “Where must I find a job? I don’t even have transport. The last time we were in the same situation with Pomodzi, I at least had a car. I drove 7 000km to try and find a new job, without success.”

“If I was on my own, I would have been gone long ago. But my family is here. My children’s school is here. Where am I supposed to take them?”

What is the most difficult thing about his situation? “I don’t know what to tell my children anymore. At least we are lucky – so far we’ve had food on the table every night, thanks to the food parcels, but it has been four or five months since I could take them to the shops and tell them to pick out a sweetie.”

“The other day my wife suggested we take them to Spar. Walking there, I was so nervous that something would happen to them. Everything has gone wrong for us – I won’t be able to handle it if something happens to one of them. When we got back, they said that going with me is no fun. But they don’t understand that they are all that I have left. The only reason I still carry on.”

“One’s soul dissappears when you suffer like this. My little boy has always had a problem with night terrors. It now gets worse. His schoolwork is also suffering. He had to stop playing rugby, something he excelled at, as we don’t have transport to get him to practices. How do you explain that to a child?”

“Receiving food parcels makes us feel like beggars,” says Karlien. “We are not used to receiving. In the past we were always the ones giving, helping. Now we are dependant on the goodwill of others. And it is not even through any fault of Kobus. He did his job, even after they stopped paying him.”

They are bitter. “The law protects those people wanting to put us out of this house. Who is protecting my husband and his colleagues from what is being done to them by the owners of Aurora? ”



Read here http://www.miningmx.com/news/gold_and_silver/Aurora-defends-gold-mine-plans.htm what Aurora’s management said at the start of this crisis.

14 antwoorde op “Why, Zuma, why?”

  1. half-pint het gesê op Junie 2, 2010

    It’s criminal that the staff (the backbone of any organisation) have not been paid for so long. I saw with my father when he was retrenched during the building industry slump years back just how demoralising it is for a man to be unemployed.

  2. Not only them. Management as well.

  3. zephur het gesê op Junie 2, 2010

    Flippin dit moet erg en moeilik wees.

    Daai man op die foto…lyk of hy die bord gesprui het…hou hy die blikkie in sy regterhand.

  4. Nee, hy is Gert Harmse, die Solidariteit-verteenwoordiger. Dis ‘n sigaret wat hy so wegsteek.

  5. Hard yes, but I find it hard to sympathise with someone who lists among his “losses” the fact that he lost his BMW. There are people who can’t even dream of owning a BMW tyre. DOesn’t in any way justify the kak going down there courtesy of Zuma and Mandela Jrs, but I prefer to place things in perspective.

  6. Sad story 🙁

  7. zephur het gesê op Junie 2, 2010

    Oh ok…jong ek is mos te oplettend

  8. No, DV, I completely disagree with you. He WORKED to own the car – he has been working for 24 years, did all the exams, is highly qualified, etc. He was in charge of a team of 100 workers! Would his pain and anger have been justified (in your opinion) if he lost a bicycle? Surely if one has been loyal to the company, responsible in your work etc you can drive what you want? After all, it is a democracy, ain’t it?

  9. I write about his BMW simply to point out how sad this is. From driving a not-too-shabby car to living in somebody else’s lounge.

  10. Don’t get me wrong. I am not going for him for having owned a beemer. I am indicating that there are people a lot worse off around. What has happened in Aurora is unforgiveable, but different strata are affected differently.

  11. tadale het gesê op Junie 2, 2010

    It is bad, and everybody there suffers, disgusting situation.

  12. This is like stories of the great depression, except then it was much more wide spread.

  13. erikavz het gesê op Junie 3, 2010

    Ek voel jammer vir hulle, ek was ook 9 maande sonder werk – Ja selfs hier in NZ. Ons het ‘n groente tuin aangelê en daar uit geëet. Nerens hier lees ek van enige wat so iets probeer om hulle kinders te voer nie, eerder dat hulle afhanklik is van kos pakkies. Kom mense die erwe is groot in SA, raak ontslae van die blomme en plant groente. Julle kan selfs onder mekaar groente ruil vir eiers of miskien ‘n hoendertjie, vrugte. Daar is heelwat wat gedoen kan word om te help.

  14. Erika, valid point. BUT these people are not unemployed. They still work everyday, except nobody is paying them. Plus, there is NO extra cash (for seedlings, for instance). At the mine itself (where the hostels are) there is NO water. Zilch, nothing, nada.

    People are giving back their parrots because they can’t afford the birdseed. What will they feed the chickens with?

    I do agree with you that one shouldn’t just sit around and wait for handouts. This is what makes this situation so very sad. They don’t sit around, they are still working.

    It’s a catch 22-situation. By the time they realised that the mine has no intention of paying them, they have already spent all their savings. Now they have to start selling furniture and things to stay alive, but the pawnshops are even turning them away.

Laat 'n Antwoord

Jou e-posadres sal nie gepubliseer word nie. Vereiste velde word aangedui as *.