You know things are out of the ordinary when an aid organisation specialising in disaster intervention is setting up a food camp for striking miners. The Gift of the Givers Foundation sent a team to Marikana this weekend for that purpose, driven by concern that breadwinners are not bringing home any bread. By REBECCA DAVIS.
Gift of the Givers is the largest African disaster relief organisation. It doesn’t only intervene during African disasters, however. If there is an international disaster of sufficient magnitude it will step in there too. As a result, its is kept pretty busy. It was there to assist with the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. When the 2010 Haiti earthquake hit, off its people went. Last year, while Somalia suffered the effects of war, famine and drought, there was a period when Gift of the Givers was the only international relief organisation on the scene.
Its founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, told Daily Maverick that the organisation had a number of different criteria for intervention in a crisis. “When it comes to international disasters, the benchmark is simple – the head of state must make a call for international relief. Then we look at how big the problem is, and whether regional organisations will manage.”
For South African crisis situations, it waits for the relevant local municipality to respond first. But because its work is well known, Sooliman said it often gets a call immediately after a disaster like a flood or tornado to support the relevant government arm.
An event like the Lonmin strike is not a natural disaster, of course. “It’s a labour dispute,” Sooliman said. “But because of the shootings, it’s become a much bigger issue.”
This isn’t the first time Gift of the Givers (GOTG) has intervened in a dispute between a mining company and workers. In March of this year, the organisation was approached by Cosatu for help in getting food to the unpaid workers of the Aurora mine who faced starvation. GOTG agreed to assist, and delivered 700 food parcels, hygiene packs, water, supplements and hot meals for 2,000 people. That was the only other occasion on which the organisation got involved with a mining-related labour issue.
A GOTG team has been dispatched to Marikana three times in as many years, however. Sooliman said the first call-out came after a hurricane a few years ago, the second was an intervention after a farmer evicted a large number of people from his land. GOTG’s food assistance for striking Lonmin miners is the latest such effort.
It is not clear how many of Lonmin’s 28,000 workers are striking and how many are staying away from the Marikana mine out of fears of intimidation and violence. Less than 4% of the workforce arrived for work by the end of last week. Many of those not working are the sole breadwinners for large families: a City Press investigation into the miners killed on 16 August found some of them were supporting up to 15 people. The Mail & Guardian also reported that Marikana is a town that seems to subsist largely on credit: most Lonmin employees make use of cash-loan outlets monthly, and many are now not able to honour its re-payments.
“Our opinion is that Lonmin should have seen to its own employees, in terms of food, for a week or two. This would have improved the atmosphere and made it more conducive to negotiation,” Sooliman said. “Over the last week we have had a lot of calls from the public and from pressure groups, asking us to please respond. They said, the reality is that Lonmin will not respond, people are hungry and scared, please can you handle it.”
The decision to intervene was taken by GOTG on Friday, and by Saturday a team had been dispatched to Marikana. Sooliman described the reception they received in a press statement:
“The team moves to the location where the families live; armed police and barbed wire adds to the tense atmosphere. Children, obviously traumatised emotionally by the unpleasant events of the past few weeks break into tears when asked to collect items brought for them; the fear, the anxiety, the uncertainty is palpable. Supportive words of encouragement from the mothers and suddenly an incredulous expression of joy permeates the atmosphere; ‘lambile, lambile, lambile’ (we are hungry), they shout and grab the juice and biscuits with gratifying satisfaction. They don't have money, the uncertainty of when the wage dispute will be resolved and the aggravation of debt incurred through loan sharks adds to the anxiety. These are a people in great need; hungry, distressed, anxious and scared.”
Sooliman said that Saturday’s effort was more about assessment and meeting the union leaders, with the feeding beginning in earnest on Sunday. “The kids were afraid to come out and collect juice,” he said. “There is a lot of anxiety in the community. And we saw a massive queue of people wanting food. We will have to double our supplies for the rest of the week.”
Sooliman estimated that “three or four thousand” people turned out for food on Sunday. He said the organisation did not restrict its provision of food to the striking Lonmin employees. “We never do that. Anyone who is hungry can get food,” he said. The organisation will remain on site to distribute food until Thursday or Friday, and then aims to provide food parcels which should last for a month. After that, Sooliman hopes that the labour impasse will have been resolved – though he said that, if necessary, they can supply food for longer.
He said the organisation is uninterested in the politics at play. But can the move be read as apolitical when it is obviously sympathetic to the striking miners? Sooliman denies it constitutes a tacit rebuke to mine management. “It’s not a rebuke. We don’t look at any of those circumstances surrounding an issue like this. We just look at those who are in need.”
A Lonmin representative who asked not to be named informed the Daily Maverick Sunday that there were still various food sources available to mineworkers, whether striking or not. Those living within the mine hostels, for instance, continue to receive food. The spokesperson also stressed that Lonmin continues to support various other community initiatives, such as TB and Aids programmes and a nutrition programme in 29 schools.
In terms of compensation for the dead miners’ families, there is a standard packet of benefits paid out to “an employee who dies in service of Lonmin”. Each family should receive funeral cover of R15,000, the payout from “Death Benefit” insurance, and “36 months of Risk Salary (Basic Salary) less appropriate taxes.” In the case of a rock drill operator, they said, families should receive R194,580 before tax (R5,405 x 36). They will also receive the deceased’s last calculated salary plus all accrued leave due.
Lonmin has set up a “Sixteen Eight” memorial fund, the name being a reference to the date of the Marikana massacre. In terms of this fund, each family will receive a R15,000 burial fund; an R8,000 casket; and “transport for beneficiaries and deceased”. The fund will also pay for “all school/college/university fees as follows: 1. All books, 2. School Fees, 3. Uniforms”. The fund totals R5-million, with R3-million from Lonmin and R2-million from Shanduka, Cyril Ramaphosa’s investment holding company, but it was indicated that it will also accept donations towards the fund.
Clearly these measures have done little to appease the Marikana community, which by all accounts maintain a deep distrust towards Lonmin and its representatives after 16 August. The provision of food by GOTG may allay immediate hunger, but it will do nothing to resolve the current stand-off between mine management and workers. If an agreement is not reached shortly, however, hunger in Marikana may become a long-term feature. DM
- “Marikana miners in debt sinkhole,” on the M&G
- “Aid group sets up camp in Marikana,” on Eyewitness News
Photo: Marikana residents queue for food at the site set up by Gifts of the Givers on Saturday