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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Newlands Ex-miners Oral History Meetings

A Sunday oral history meeting in Chris Hani Village, Newlands (Naruni)

Newlands Mine veterans on the move!

Last year,2009, a team of Jubilee activists working in conjunction with Khanya College gave no less that 53 two-day seminars on “financialization and women”. These were spread country wide with four of these concentrated in Naruni. Remarkably this feat was achieved in two months (October - November 2009) at minimum cost. The objective was to build cadres in their own community settings with a minimum suggestion that they meet regularly as study groups for which Khanya College would supply study materials.  

Some of the spin offs from the seminars require special comment and more especially the mobilization of mine veterans in the Naruni area. (Naruni, more popularly known as Newlands, not to be confused with Newlands in Cape Town. The rural area is adjacent to Mdantsane in East London). At each of the seminars, held over a weekend there were in the order of 60 participants evenly divided by gender and age.

The mine veterans had come to the seminar either straight from a traditional meeting or a church meeting, mostly dressed in their Sunday best. They were very vocal about deteriorating conditions in all ten villages making up Newlands. Despite the slavery conditions which they had to endure throughout the prime of their lives, their main concern was not so much their own pain and suffering, but the social and environmental degradation impacting on their communities.  

Many attributed their work on the mines as being pressed into service by the “government”. Some had a more sober view and regarded their working on the mines as “business” in order to access money to build up their homesteads and buy cattle. Most agree that when they were home during their contracts, mostly not longer than 9 months, they did not “work” but lived uBuntu by the plough and played their vital roles in building their communities.

So vibrant are these observations that it was decided to continue these study group meetings once per week, on Sundays. At each meeting one veteran tells of his life experiences. This is recorded in printed form, with pictures, and prepared for a more extended discussion at the next study group meeting. At the same time each week some 50 copies of the printed oral history are handed out to be distributed by the respective veteran himself to encourage more to attend future study groups.   

This approach is having a remarkable impact. Extended family members of the veterans attend and word of the oral history project is running far ahead than what we are currently able to cope with. There are now 7 mine veteran study groups over the vast area of Newlands.

Apart from the retrieving of mine veteran oral history as being most valuable heritage material, the mine veterans themselves see their main goal as taking up a reconstruction task by overcoming dashed expectations of the “RDP” since 1994.But the heritage interest is not to be shrugged off. Most of the mine veterans are of the age group born in 1940 to 1950. They carry with them the story of gold mining in South Africa, information on gold mining between the critical years 1971 to 1982 when labour on the mines became unionised.

Berend Schuitema