In untransformed economic structures — as they exist in the mines — apartheid is alive and kicking.

For all the reasons we can give about the “illegal” strikes and the lawful correctness of the mining houses to fire the workers, this is part of an injustice that reigns supreme in our beautiful land.

We all know that if economic inequality persists in South Africa, this land will not know peace. Much as we want to believe that apartheid is dead – and much progress has been made in the last 22 years since the release of Nelson Mandela from prison – it is unavoidable to conclude that it’s not been buried.

The mining sector promotes a social structure where too few have everything and too many suffer. How do we justify a chief executive earning more than R50 million a year while many workers take home less than R200 000 a year?

We have to challenge practices and attitudes that not only compromise the ideals that so many sacrificed their lives for but which make each and every one of us complicit in perpetuating injustice and inequality.

There is absolutely nothing exemplary or aligned to Constitutional values in how the leaders and managers in the mines are handling the crisis. Yes they have all the money to take issues to the highest courts in the land to defend and protect the perpetuation of economic injustice, exploitation and inequality and perhaps win but it does not make it morally right. We have to admit that the miners are not only paid a pittance – despite the story that they are the highest paid in the variegated sectors – but condemned to live in conditions fit for pigs.

Many miners live in degrading and dehumanising conditions. This is a fact that many people conveniently forget. As for those who say they have the best salaries, it would be best for them to sacrifice what they have to not only live in those conditions but take less than R10 000 a month to feed an extended family caught in the pincer grasp of poverty and unemployment.

It is easy to point to the Constitution to say apartheid is dead, whatever that means. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The conditions under which miners live have not changed much from the late 1940s when my late father left KwaZulu at 17 years of age to seek his fortune and fame, which he never found. It’s time we spoke the truth about the hell on Earth the mining sector condemns African men, women, children and families to.

If South Africa is to be a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society based on justice and equality as espoused in the Constitution, it would be easier to say we have made progress if miners, for instance, had their dignity and self-respect restored. We can only judge a society by the way it treats is lowest workers.

When we see that miners – who are the backbone of this economy – live in and are treated like sub-humans by companies they give their lives for, this reveals not only the apartheid injustice that reigns supreme in the land but also the untruth of our claim to be an exemplary society in the continent and world. Today we are the most unequal society on Earth. We need to honestly and openly deal with what is going on in the mining, transport, manufacturing and other sectors.

We still hold the promise to be the best human experiment on non-racial and democratic living based on justice and equality.

Nobody was born with rights to own what is in the bosom of Mother Africa.

Not everyone will live in a mansion or drive a BMW but it is possible to live a decent and dignified life with basic amenities. It’s time something radical was done for the miners who have been oppressed, exploited and abused ever since gold and diamonds were discovered in the 1870s.



Sandile Memela

Sandile Memela is a journalist, writer, cultural critic, columnist and civil servant. He lives in Midrand.

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