The Life of A Machine Operator on a Platinum Mine

The humble home of Frenandez, winch operator at Lonmin

The humble home of Fernandez, winch operator at Lonmin.

His mine overalls hanging inside his shack.
His mine overalls hanging inside his shack.

The nutrition of a mine worker. Workers work 8 hour shifts and no meals are provided.
The nutrition of a mine worker. Workers work 8 hour shifts and no meals are provided.

In summer the shacks become like ovens so a fan and a fridge are absolute necessities.

In summer the shacks become like ovens so a fan and a fridge are absolute necessities.

I took these photos in Baphong Village last week. Fernandez lives in a shack adjacent to the royal graveyard where village chiefs are buried. Fernandez is in his forties and can expect to work for another decade. He has two wives and eight children back home in Mozambique and is worried that he has very little to show for 23 years of work at Lonmin. Being a winch operator, he may be considered a skilled worker. He showed us a payslip and after deductions he seldom gets more than R 4000 per month. He earns too little to get a bank loan for a proper house and too much to qualify for an RDP house. Because he is a foreigner, he would have to go at the very end of the RDP housing list if he did qualify. His shack is within walking distance of the shaft where he works. There is very little by way of sport or recreation in Bapong village or any of the other infrastructure one would associate with a town. The inside of his shack shows that he is a very neat and tidy man, so does the outside. He approached us while we were in the graveyard and invited us to see how he is living. His situation is not unique, and it is not only Lonmin workers who find themselves in this kind of situation. It is common throughout the Platinum Belt. This is what it means to be an African migrant mine worker on South Africa’s mines.

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9 comments

  1. Having TWO wives and 8 children, who are to blame for that, the mine management that employed him in this job? Just asking.

    1. wessel- where he comes from you dont have to dump your first wife. he is away trying to support his kids. you got a problem with that?

  2. Wessel your question is immaterial and based on accepting the long discredited population theory of Malthus. My Grandfather had 15 kids, the Smuts government encouraged him. But then he was white. We do not have poverty and hunger because of global scarcity. We have poverty and hunger because of global abundance distributed badly. Just saying.

  3. My Nan and Grandpa Boots had 13 between them, and they too went without shoes, walked miles to school and knew hunger, but they were able to attend school and are all successful to some degree or another. I agree that the desire to have children, to perpetuate, to create, is not a black disease, and so too that global or national scarcity is a kak excuse for children dying of hunger daily.
    You dont have to agree with another man’s truth to allow it a voice.

    1. David van Wyk · · Reply

      Mort great points. Why should we prescribe to people how many husbands or wives or children they have? Fact is that this country’s wealth is derived from the work these guys do. Yet we decry them a living wage. This corporation has consistently spent more on board remuneration than on employee housing.

  4. Great work David. Visited your blog at last!

  5. Thanks John, I am because we are. I owe so much to you and the BMF for allowing me the space and time to become involved in issues that really matter for us all.

  6. Thanks for sharing, impressive

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