South African miners struggle for way out of shantytowns
MARIKANA, South Africa - Nosiphiwo Mehlwana can't imagine moving from her one-room tin shack anytime soon. She and her husband, a miner for the Lonmin platinum company, live in a slum across from the strike violence-scarred Marikana mine.
Mine workers in South Africa endure long years on a housing waiting list and claim they usually have to pay bribes to be allocated space.
"The hostels have a waiting list, it's very difficult to live there, you always have to pay bribes," Mehlwana said outside her shanty in Nkaneng. It overlooks a muddy veld where 34 mine workers were shot dead by police during a wildcat strike in August.
The squalid living conditions for miners were among the reasons for the bloody strike at the platinum mine in Marikana, 110 kilometres (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
Mehlwana's hut is the largest of a dozen structures erected around a mucky courtyard in the sprawling Nkaneng informal settlement. There are two communal toilets and a water tap for the more than 30 inhabitants.
"It's a kitchen, it's a bedroom, it's a lounge!" she jokes about her one-room dwelling.
A large bed, a plastic garden chair, an electric stove, a refrigerator, a television set and a DVD player are all squeezed into a space of just 12 square metres (130 square feet). A few personal belongings are stored in cheap duffel bags and tucked away under the bed.
From her door, there is a direct view of the Rowland mine shaft -- one of four operated by British firm Lonmin in Marikana.
The shanty's landlord -- the first to have squatted on the piece of land in the 1990s -- charges 350 rand ($40) in monthly rent, plus 100 rand ($11) for electricity.
But for less rent than that, some lucky ones have moved into brick-and-mortar family units provided by the mine operator. They were recently renovated from communal hostels into one or two-bedroom apartments with a living room, a toilet and a kitchen.
"We were on a waiting list since 2005 and we only got this place last year," said Nosimo Faleni, mother of two, whose husband has worked at the mine since 1997.
"We are happy, we were in Nkaneng before."
Under the government instituted mining charter, Lonmin has plans to build more houses, but there will not be enough for every worker. The company employs 28,000 people, and plans to provide 2,970 housing units in the next two years.
For those still in the old-style 1970s hostels, it's an ordeal -- four beds per room, no doors, no privacy.
"When it rains, we have to move the beds," said miner Mandla Vilakazi who has lived in the hostels for four years. Most miners leave their families behind in far-flung villages in the south of the country as well as nearby nations.
Food is included at the hostels, "but it is bad, and we prefer to cook by ourselves," Vilakazi added. An electric hotplate lies on the floor near the hostel entrance for preparing their own food.
A tour of the mining town leads to Wonderkop, a sprawling township, commonly referred to as the Indigenous Village because it was originally inhabited by the Tswana ethnic group pushed there by the apartheid regime.
Wonderkop streets are much brighter, lined with purple flowering jacaranda trees.
Inside Thumeka Magwangwana's neatly painted wooden cabin is a microwave oven, a deep freezer and a flatscreen TV with a cable satellite decoder dish sprouting from the rooftop.
Yet the reality of the scarce and tough housing conditions in most mining areas is inescapable -- the stench from a makeshift toilet behind the cabin, the lack of tap water.
Magwangwana is unemployed but her daughter Zinzi earns 4,500 rand monthly at the Lonmin mine.
After paying 520 rand in rent plus energy bills, and 1,000 towards debts, less than 3,000 rand remain to provide for Zinzi, her mother, her son and brother.
There's nothing left for the relatives back home in the impoverished Eastern Cape.
"I cannot send any money to my family. I feel very ashamed, it's a disgrace," said Magwangwana. - Agence France-Presse