By Mbangwa Xaba

Beyond the festering wounds of apartheid, South Africa is still to face a tragedy as louche and spine-chilling as the current scant regard for life, black people’s lives especially. In this republic, no eyebrows are raised with news headlines like “over 10 000 babies are abandoned every year,” hitting the nation.
We read, nonchalantly, that the vast majority of these children were found dead.

In a similar vein, another headline shouts – “21 bodies found in an abandoned mine”- and that police say their “preliminary investigations suggest that the deceased were moved and placed where they were discovered, no foul play is suspected.” What on earth is that gibberish? Dead people are dumped all over the show and police think it’s all normal. Could the reason be, it is black people who are deemed to be “illegal miners”, as artisan mining is referred to for purposes of criminalising poverty, that there is a devil-may-care attitude? Or is it because they have been designated illegal foreign nationals deserving of this despicable treatment?

Mine deaths in democratic South Africa are particularly lamentable and ghastly. They bear all the hallmarks of apartheid – South Africa’s darkest historic moment ever. Ours is a sick society. It is stomach-turning rot to the core. What is worse, the lavish multibillion-rand mining industry, is the dead silent oasis where the decay that has spun out of control to engulf the entire nation sprung. Put bluntly, we must be grateful to the mining industry that ours is a nation of malevolence and muck. Since the ‘40s, misanthropic white supremacists may have formalised apartheid in South Africa, but it is the mining industry that conceived this human misfortune in the first place. White settlers, the original zama-zamas under the leadership of the likes of Cecil John Rhodes and Harry Frederick Oppenheimer pioneered practices that perpetuated disenfranchising of the country’s indigenous blacks. It was at the behest of the mining industry that successive all-white governments implemented measures to simultaneously coerce black men to abandon family farms for mine-work, and prevented them and their families from permanently settling in urban areas.

More cruelly, they were barred from benefiting from their toil or the country’s natural resources as owners of mines themselves. They worked for next to nothing and died underground with their remains often abandoned there, others died in diseases-infested mining conditions whilst those who were no longer useful, were sent home to be buried as paupers. Apartheid has been wiped out in many aspects of South African society – but it remains stubborn at its cradle – the mining industry. Nothing drives this point home more than the Marikana Massacre. The mass murders at a Rustenburg town once called Rooikoppies brings the apartheid’s brutal ghost to life more vividly than any racist rant by whatever bigot. Sometimes between 12 and 16 August 2012 exactly 47 people were killed and more than 78 miners were injured.

Most of them were shot by police officers and security personnel from the Lonmin Mine armed with R5 military assault rifles. Among the dead were 34 miners, and 10 other people including two policemen and two security guards who were killed by protesting miners. A mere two years later, the brutal mining industry was at it again. On February 5, 2016, Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyirenda were swallowed by the earth whilst making a profit for the gold mine company Lily and Barbrook in Barberton, Mpumalanga. A container at the entrance of the mine where they worked caved in on the unsuspecting workers. They were never seen again.

Mine owners, a foreign company from Australia, Macquarie Metals, has since walked away leaving the gold mine’s business rescue practitioners and the government to sort out its mess. In its shameful attempt to console the families, the Department of Mineral Resources has offered an insulting R200 000 compensation to the bereaved. You would be forgiven for thinking that Marikana and the Lily Mine would be signs that would have shaken our society. If not for anything else, just as a reality check that the mining industry doesn’t give the slightest damn about black lives and has a very scanty regard for the country’s laws.

Dream on! To rub salt to injury, a few weeks ago, almost as if in a synchronised performance with the state, the industry turned a blind eye to the brutal gang rape of 8 women in Gauteng’s West Rand. To make matters worse, these women can forget about justice. The hyped-up arrest of some 14 or so suspects, has turned out to be a miscarriage of justice and they have walked. The case is without suspects and there are very thin prospects that anyone would ever be prosecuted for this crime.
Despite the thousands that die in the abandoned mines that the mining companies have a responsibility to seal, but chose not to, many more South Africans die in the so-called legal mines.
Actually, an ordinary day at the mines is just a deadly gamble with life for those who work there.
Mining is another world – dark, cramped, unbearably hot, the air laden with harmful dust, earth tremors an ever-present threat, and the normal world of safety and sunlight are barely imaginable four or more kilometres above.

If nothing is done, the mayhem brought to this country by the mining industry since the 18th-century gold rush in Johannesburg, will, it seems, persist until this beautiful land is in ruins.
Clearly, there are laws for everyone else and none for the mining industry. I have said it before, maybe I should say it one more time, it is time the people of this country rise and “say this far and no further!”
Otherwise, we will perish like willing sheep at the expense of greedy semi-human beings ransacking the underbelly of our earth for selfish interest.

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