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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Biography Ex-miner Elliot Ntukuse

Scenery Park Marshal
May 2011 / Nr.3
Marshal Newsletters under the auspices JEC
Contact: Vuyo Puti @
073 408 3858
Biography Elliot Ntukuse pages 1 – 2
Beware of the Crooks 3
Chamber of Mines in offensive against Concourt ruling  3   
Elliot’s health and safety issues 4
Government steps to “help” ex-miners         4

1.      Biography Elliot Ntukuse

Elliot Ntukuse came to hear of regular ex-mine worker meetings taking place in Nxaruni. As the issue of ex-miners has been in the news, he needed to hear what the fuss was all about. Compensation for ex-mineworkers has always been an issue, but the recent Constitutional Court (Concourt) ruling caused a lot of talking among ex-mineworkers. The Concourt opened the way for ex-mineworkers to sue their previous bosses directly for compensation, for phthisis and injuries caused working underground in dusty places, mainly in the gold mines. Amounts for compensation being bandied about are up to R 2 – 3 million.

     Elliot was born in Chalumna in 1957. His father and his family moved to Mdantsane when he was a teenager.

     The attraction of Mdantsane was powerful for the many people living in villages in the rural Ciskei. It was close to East London for shopping, while jobs and schooling became more accessible.

Western Platinum

     The young Elliot saw no benefit of easier jobs in the “border industries” surrounding Mdantsane and East London. He did achieve relatively well at school with a Grade 8 (then Std. 6) education level. Having grade eight was no mean achievement given the sacrifices and the difficulties to continue his schooling. This could have made getting a reasonable job easier than for most.

     On the question why he went to find work on the mines, his answer is short and sweet: “I wanted a job. Mdantsane, which Apartheid had planned, was an expensive farce: a dormitory for workers who had to travel far every day not only for work, but to do shopping”. Mdantsane became a sleeping place for the so-called “border industries” in and around East London. Nothing more, nothing less, but schooling and other job opportunities made the difference. “The mines provided an easier life for youngsters. I got everything provided: food, accommodation and especially not having to pay for travelling to get to work. Travelling for Mdantsane residents working in the Border industries robbed them of most of their wages. On the mines I could save and by balance was much better off than taking a job with whites in East London”.

     Elliot’s first job were 6 months contracts at Western Platinum Mine, 1975/’77. He was 19 years old. “The long hours of hard work were tiring. A six day workweek made time pass by quick. The six months I signed on for were over before I realized it.” 

     Western Platinum Mines is close to Rustenburg. Elliot thought this was a good choice: he was made aware by returning miners that the older gold mines, especially in the Johannesburg area, were not as attractive as the newer platinum mines near Rustenburg. The gold mines were more dangerous by far and the conditions of accommodation in the hostels (compounds) were primitive. Workers often had to sleep in over-crowded rooms, mostly as many as 40 to a room, on concrete slab bunks. Having a hot water shower was an exception reserved for white miners and the privileged few black clerks.

     When Elliot started working at Western Platinum Mine every thing was still new. The mine started up a few years before he joined. Before the 1970’s platinum mining was not yet an option as demand for the metal only kicked in with the needs of the motor car industry in the 1970s.  Being more modern, the owners of the platinum mines no longer thought of their investment as playing in “kaffir circuses”, (a phrase, which was brought to discussion at some of the Nxaruni meetings, was used by rich money lenders overseas). Conditions for labour were at the bottom of their list of priorities. With the emergence of trade unions in the 1970s conditions became less primitive.

     After the mid seventies, when Elliot started work on the mines, there was some improvement in conditions. Times were changing. The unions exerted pressure on mine owners. Mine companies found that they had to change their labour practices. But behind this new awareness of the owners who started preaching “social responsibilities” with money freely dished out for “community involvement” was a constant effort to undermine the legitimacy of trade unions at the expense of workers.  

     Rather than the concrete slabs provided as beds in the old gold mines, at Western Platinum Elliot had a bed to sleep on. In the morning after pap and a chunk of bread he had a hot shower before going down the mine. When he came up from underground, he had a hot shower and after some time relaxing was tired, ready sleep and for the next day’s work.

  St. Helena Gold Mine

     Finding work on the platinum mines was not easy as mine bosses preferred to take local workers. And besides, most workers preferred working on the platinum mines rather than the gold mines of the Witwatersrand. Competition to get work on the Platinum mines was strong. So Elliot had to accept his next contracts at St. Helena Gold Mines, between 1983 and 1987.

     At St. Helena he found that what he had heard from home coming miners about the quality of life on the gold mines checked. “We were constantly being chased to ‘increase production’. As a team leader placing ventilation pipes we had to work hard to keep up with the pace of development of tunnels. We had to keep fresh air at the faces of these tunnels to within 30 – 40 feet. Where I worked was not only deep (and hot as hell!), but extensive mining meant long hours of walking to get to work places”.

     When Elliot started at St. Helena there was no trade union. At first mine workers often thought the unions were a “trick” by mine bosses to appease them.  But as unions became more visible and accepted by workers, bosses became aggressive and caused a lot of trouble for the unions and workers aloike. 

     “The year 1987 was tumultuous. Entry points to the compounds were controlled by the mine security people. There was strict control; it felt like we were in a concentration camp. Often the South African Police were called in when the mine security people could not keep control. Then in 1987, before the National Union of Mineworkers, established a few years earlier on, and led the Great Strike of that year, a massive faction fight between Xhosas and Sotho broke out at St. Helena compounds. After many blood thirsty confrontations egged on by the mine security people, we Xhosas were given train tickets, paid R 600 and sent home. 

     “Times rapidly changed since then. The NUM strike of 1987 hit hard at the labour system on the mines. In fact it struck at a cornerstone of Apartheid. Three years later, South Africa itself changed, and four more years later South Africa had its first democratic elections 1994. After I was sent home from St Helena I was actively involved in Anti Apartheid activities and was a marshal in my street committee”.

     I got married for the first time in 1993. Times were difficult and in the turmoil township residents were in violent protest. I also kept having problems with my knee, due to the accident on St Helena Mine. This still bugs me. My wife is very talented and runs a sewing business in which we both participate.  


     The good news about the Concourt ruling on compensation for mine workers suffering from lung diseases, spread fast, far and wide. But the concluding message at the last meeting of ex-miners at Nxaruni was for caution and vigilance.

     It is usual that when poor people stand to benefit, like with the Concourt ruling, crooks and opportunists will line up to take what they can get for themselves. And not only that: big money draws big schemers. As there are large sums of money to be released on an individual basis, one can expect that the mine bosses are going to resist every step of the way through the courts.  

     In the Concourt ruling there are also loopholes that crooks can exploit. Most ex-miners can be bluffed that this huge amount of compensation money (like R 2.6 million) is instantly available if they can prove that they have silicosis. This is not the case! What the Concourt says is that ex-mineworkers can sue through the High Courts. This can take maybe five or more years. 

     According to the law lung examinations should take place once every two years. This never happens. And even if there are examinations compensation is still a far way off. Skelms can therefore come to the ex-miners with a promise that they will take care of this process, get the medical done and access the compensation. But at the same time they will “charge a fee”, as we know a fee to do exactly nothing! Such a down payment is as small as R 50, but mostly as large as R 500 or even R 1,000. Many ex-miners have already been duped and therefore all must be very wary when people who have no formal credentials, come along making a hollow and totally empty promise.    

     Getting compensation is not going to be easy. The mine bosses are already arguing for a “deal” between them and the government to pay what in their view is “reasonable and fair”.

     Ex-miners must be alert and not fall into the trap of these liars who only want to take money for nothing. The best way to prevent this is that ex-miners speak and meet regularly with one another. Only proper information which is reliable and correct can provide protection. We can in any case expect that things are going to move fast. The unions fortunately are becoming aware of the problems as well. The General Secretary of NUM has recently announced that there will be an information campaign to prevent high jacking of the compensation process, or the benefits of individual ex-mine workers.

     There is an “ex-mineworkers union” based in Umthatha and which is represented on the government parliamentary committee for ex-mineworkers. This needs to be interrogated and bona fides checked out with COSATU.

     Just like the mine veterans were discussing at their last meeting! It is not just the crooks and matshonisas that need to be watched out for, but other stakeholders who will attempt to make deals that undermine the interests of the ex-miners.
     Our first port of call should be NUM. Remember NUM membership since 1983 probably has many mine workers who are still members, who still work on the mines, and obviously they will be adequately catered for.
     A recent article published in the Engineering Weekly, mine bosses have made clear that the numbers of ex-mineworkers and the amounts they are liable for, are “exaggerated”. Or as they put it, the sum total of what the mines are liable for are “off the board”.   Obviously they are going to try to minimise their losses at the expense of active mine workers, but definitely at the expense of ex-mineworkers.  Therefore the Chamber wants a “quick deal” with the government to come to what suits them best. Remember, the government has its back to the wall as mine companies can also threaten to cut jobs and “pull out our investments”! AngloGold Ashanti wants such a deal with the government “in months”. In other words they want to by-pass the legal process altogether to work out a deal by arm twisting the government. Fortunately workers are aware of these antics!
     Eighteen former miners are suing for compensation in the High Courts and the National Union of Mineworkers has resolved to assist miners in their compensation claims. The ruling of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in favour of Thembekile Mankayi opens the door to thousands of other silicosis sufferers to sue South African mining companies.
     NOTE: The biggest challenge at the moment is simply this: an information campaign to build maximum awareness on the compensation claims and ways and means to add pressure to achieve our demands !!

4.     Health and Safety Issues
      Elliot is healthy with the same zest for life that he took with him to the mines.  He cannot recall any proper medical examination excepting before he went to Western Platinum. He had an extensive medical in Johannesburg and was found fit to work underground. While working at St. Helena he broke his knee in rugby. He was hospitalised and paid R 800 compensation.

5.      Government Steps Being Taken To Address Ex Mineworker Grievances:

11th May, 2010:

The Office of the Chief Whip of the Majority Party welcomes the commitment by the department of labour to speedily resolve the plight of ex-mine workers protesting over the non payment of employment benefits.
The department, which is represented in the inter-governmental task team set up to look into the problems of ex-mine workers, on Monday attended a meeting in East London, Eastern Cape, called by the Portfolio Committee on Labour.
During the meeting, the task team, led by labour department DG Jimmy Manyi, made an undertaking to amongst other things, keep the ex workers updated on the processes meant to resolve their grievances.
The meeting, which was instigated by the labour committee under the chairpersonship of Lumka Yengeni following complaints that the department and other stakeholders had failed to pay ex-mine workers benefits due to them, also resolved to co-opt representatives of the disgruntled former employees into the task team.
This was meant to ensure transparency in the way the department was handling their grievances.
A group of the ex miners early last week camped outside Parliament with the hope of meeting the President of the country over their grievances. The protesters, who had travelled all the way from the Eastern Cape, were rescued by members of ANC Woodstock branch, Cape Town, after being stranded outside Parliament in cold and rainy weather. The ANC members provided the protesting ex workers, some of whom are old and frail, with blankets and food.
The group will now be represented by one of its members in the task team.
Yengeni, who had attended Monday`s meeting together with the Portfolio Committee on Mining Chairperson Fred Gona, said a report on the grievances of the ex-mine workers will be discussed in the committee.
"We will discuss the report in the committee and recommend further steps to be taken with regards to this matter," she said.
She said one of the main grievances raised by the group that had camped outside Parliament was around the issue of representation in the task team.
"Our assessment is that the facilitation and guidance by the task team was not as effective as it should be “ hence the problem of people going to Parliament."
"As a committee, we were encouraged by the undertaking by the DG that the task team will do everything possible to ensure that the services due to ex-mine workers would be effectively rendered by the department," she said.  
     (It is worrying that two ex-miners were co-opted to represent all ex-miners. The government has failed in its mission to keep all ex-miners properly informed. Certainly this government committee cannot even pretend to have a mandate to negotiate away the interests of the ex-mineworkers with the Chamber of Mines!) 

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