This week marked 204 years since the birth of German philosopher Karl Marx. Much ink, controversy, and assertion has been spilled in decoding Marx’s views and positions on political economy over the years.
I won’t burden you with that except to say that Marx’s political project was to expand human freedom and fight oppression in all its forms.
History and the present teach us one thing: the lucrative mining sector is the poster child for exploitation where inequality has flourished for nearly 200 years in South Africa.
The sector has been the cornerstone of the South African economy for over a century. He helped build towns and villages. But we know all too well that the industry’s history is not rosy.
Many miners have been killed or seriously injured in mine accidents, and thousands have died of lung diseases brought on by working in enclosed spaces filled with coal dust. They are mostly black workers. The sector has historically played a significant role in expanding inequality that has made this country the most unequal society in the world.
Even today, the meager wages and poor conditions in which miners continue to work today in South Africa are a direct legacy of the early years of mining and apartheid. It’s as if the Freedom Day we commemorated last month was not for working people.
What has also been consistent is the sector’s blatant refusal to recognize the legions of workers who risk their lives and physical integrity extracting wealth from the belly of the earth – wealth that has made big cat CEOs fabulously rich. while the workers have to beg for peanuts. This is the face of mining in the country. It’s an ugly sight.
As I type this, workers at Sibanye-Stillwater have gone over three months without pay, simply for asking for a pay rise of R1,000 per month for the next three years. The mine wants to give its workers just R800, suggesting the workers are greedy. Good grace!
This is a company whose CEO Neal Froneman took home R300 million last year. His bonus consists of a base salary of R12.42 million, a cash bonus of R7.8 million and R264 million in additional share proceeds.
Froneman is just one of many fat cat CEOs, mostly white men, who continue to earn handsomely while their employees live hand to mouth.
Soaring commodity prices last year translated into lucrative profits for the mining industry. But this did not, by design, affect the average South African miner. Over the past century, companies have focused on designing performance metrics to justify increasing executive compensation levels.
The disgruntled North West workers who ousted President Cyril Ramaphosa last week operate not far from the Marikana mine in the country.
platinum belt where police shot dead 34 striking miners and seriously injured dozens more in 2012.
The Marikana Massacre revealed the extreme consequences of constantly paying low wages, while extracting vast mineral wealth from the earth.
It is a national disgrace that around some of the most valuable platinum deposits on the planet, poverty, underdevelopment and low wages continue to be a feature of this economy that dooms workers and their families. to generational poverty.
Our leaders always said we couldn’t afford to have another Marikana. But little has been done to ensure workers get their fair share of the wealth they produce under grueling conditions.
Sibanye workers, and generations before them, never asked or expected to be rich. All they ask for is a fair share of the wealth created by their labor.
For the capitalists, it is a battle for super profits and generous bonuses. For the workers, it is a fight for their rights as human beings.
South Africa cannot continue to hold the dubious distinction of being one of the countries with the most cavernous wage gap between big cats and typical workers. The road to economic freedom begins with paying workers well for the work they do. And the government cannot claim to be an honest bystander when workers in all industries continue to be exploited by multinational corporations.
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