Landmark class action suit for miners

An application to compensate mine workers with tuberculosis (TB) or silicosis will be heard in the South Gauteng High Court next week in what is considered to be a landmark class action suit. 

An application to compensate mine workers with tuberculosis (TB) or silicosis will be heard in the South Gauteng High Court next Monday and Tuesday. The application will be brought by Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke) and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) as a landmark class action law suit against all 32 mining companies in South Africa.

Miners who have suffered from TB or silicosis since 1965 will be represented in the law suit, which plans to claim monetary compensation from mining powerhouses such as Harmony Gold and AngloGold.

The details of the suit were outlined at a media briefing yesterday afternoon at the offices of Section 27 (a public interest law centre) in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Anele Yawa, general secretary of TAC said, “For decades gold mines have treated their workers as inferior human beings and shown a shocking disregard for the health of these workers.”

Miners were said to have contracted TB and silicosis, an incurable disease linked to TB, due to the silica dust from drilling as well as lower standards of air quality permitted by mining companies inside mines.

John Stephens who deals with legal matters at Section 27 said the dust is “cyto-toxic,” as it destroys lung tissue. He added that silicosis is also only diagnosed 10 to 15 years after a person develops the disease. As a result, miners who fell ill were retrenched or often forced to leave work with very little or no compensation.

Together with Tanya Charles, a policy specialist at Sonke, the organisations plan to present the court with evidence aimed at securing compensation from the mining companies.

Some of this evidence will highlight difficulties experienced by women who have “societal expectations” to become caretakers and give up their jobs or education, as well as the socio-economic impact on black mine workers from homelands.

Yawa said that “mining companies are running away with murder”, and that “these capitalists must pay for the lives of our fathers and forefathers.” Charles added that “little is done to develop the areas from which mine workers come,” and that responsibilities then fall on females in rural homes.

In addition to the application, a picket will take place outside the South Gauteng High Court and the offices of the Teba miners’ recruitment agency in the Eastern Cape next Monday, to show support for the plight of ill, ex-mine workers.

If next week’s application is successful in court, a date for the case will be set for October.

Who fired first? Gia Nicolaides talks about covering Marikana

This article was written by former Wits Vuvuzela and now EWN journalist Gia Nicolaides, two weeks after the Marikana Massacre on August 16, 2012. It first appeared on this site on August 30, 2012.


Story and photos by Gia Nicolaides

It has been exactly two weeks since 34 miners were killed in a bloody shootout with the police at Lonmin’s Marikana mine on August 16. Gia Nicolaides, a journalist with EWN and a former Wits Vuvuzela student, gives us a personal account of her experiences in covering the Marikana story.


When I arrived in the dry and dusty township on the 13th of August 2012, nine people including two police officers had been killed. The policemen had been hacked to death.

It was a group of journalists who found the tenth victim – a miner who was beaten and left for dead in the open veld, near the hill where the protesters had been gathering on a daily basis.

The mineworkers were militant and warned female journalists in particular to stay away, saying it was men’s territory. They threatened to do “unspeakable things” to any woman who went into the area, where they were getting traditional medicine from a sangoma. They were preparing for war and armed themselves by taking ‘muti’, which they believed would make them bullet proof.

Female journalists were warned to stay far away from the miners. Pic: Gia Nicolaides

For several days police tried to negotiate a truce with the group, pleading with them to hand over their weapons.

Journalists knew police had been given instructions to force the crowd to disperse, but we had no idea the events that would unfold, would lead to such bloodshed and make international headlines.

Police warned us to move back saying they were unsure how the protesters would react. I watched as three water cannons moved forward and started spraying water at the protestors. Despite this, the miners charged the police with spears and pangas.

The next minute teargas and stun grenades were fired by the police and the almost unending sound of gunshots rang out.  I felt as though I was in the middle of an action movie.

I was torn between recording the events as they unfolded for our news bulletins, bearing witness to the incident, and getting myself away from danger.

If the protestors continued charging towards the police and got through the SAPS barricade, I strongly believe that I and several other journalists would have been killed.

There were two lines of police – the first armed with rubber bullets and the second with live ammunition. Some of officers jumped into the armoured vehicles when they felt threatened and new footage shows that’s when some of the protestors opened fire with pistols.

The Lonmin mine at Marikana. Pic: Gia Nicolaides

Police have been blamed for using maximum force, while they say they were left with no other choice.

The protesters remain defiant two weeks after the tragedy, saying they will not return to work until their pay has been raised to R12,500 per month.

While negotiations between mine bosses and workers continue; operations at the mine remain at a standstill, with Lonmin losing millions of rands per day.

The workers maintain they represent themselves; I believe the unions are to blame for not helping them to resolve this issue from the beginning. Union rivalry is apparent in the mining industry, but that’s no excuse for allowing workers to take matters into their own hands.

The miners assemble on the hill on front of the police. Pic: Gia Nicolaides

44 people lost their lives in what I believe was unnecessary violence to start with.

There are two sides to this story – the one of a poor worker earning a minimum wage and fighting for his right for better living and working conditions and the story of the police officers, who were put in a difficult situation while trying to maintain law and order.

The police presence opposite the miners before the shootings on August 16. Pic: Gia Nicolaides

Regardless of who is to blame, this incident has once again cast South Africa in a negative light, with comparisons being made to the violence during Apartheid.

Arguably, this is regarded as the country’s bloodiest shootout in recent history, highlighting the polarisation between employers and their workers.

VIDEO: Marikana: Behind the scenes

by Nontobeko Zuma

On the second anniverary of the Marikana tragedy, South African journalist, Mayleen Vincent recounts her experiences as a television field producer at the scene of the 2012 ‘Marikana Massacre’, where police shot and killed 34 striking mineworkers.

Armed mineworkers at the Lonmin platinum mine had embarked on a wildcat strike demanding higher wages since the 10th of August.

Ten other killings including those of mine security, police officers and striking miners preceded the August, 16 bloodshed.

Ballot voting suggested to avoid mining strike violence


UNITED: Siwve Sopoha an EFF member from Marikana comes to Johannesburg in Support of his community members, Jonas Felling and Nathaniel Baase, who were both miners at Marikana. Photo: Luca Kotton

UNITED: Siwve Sopoha an EFF member from Marikana comes to Johannesburg in Support of his community members, Jonas Felling and Nathaniel Baase, who were both miners at Marikana. Photo: Luca Kotton

by Palesa Tshandu and Luca Kotton

Legal ballot voting in the industrial relations sector can be used to prevent violent strike action and promote solidarity among mine-workers, according to Prof Edward Webster.

“A ballot means that there is a democratic mandate that will pre-empt strikes,” suggests Webster who was speaking at phase two of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry panel discussion held at Wits University yesterday.

The discussion forms part of a series of seminars that examines violence in the industrial relations sector, an example of which led to the killing of 34 mine-workers at Lonmin mine in Marikana on August 16, 2012.

According to Webster, a Wits sociology professor, the process of ballot voting will be used as a tool for mine-workers to have some control in the decision-making process of strike action. Ultimately, this process will result in a negotiated outcome among mine-workers and their employers.

Power inequalities must be addressed 

Society Work and Development Institute (SWOP) fellow and researcher Chrispen Chinguno suggests that the democratisation of the mining sector is necessary to address power inequalities that exist among mine-workers which ultimately promotes a culture of violence.

Chinguno challenges the concept of a ballot system drawing on the participation of miners as integral to the process of striking. He said, “a ballot works as an individual vote, striking needs participation”.

According to Webster, the introduction of the ballot system in the industrial relations sector offers an alternative approach to the prevalence of violence, as it calls for miners to act in a democratic manner when addressing  conflict.

The suggestion of a  ballot for miners was met with mixed reactions. One miner said: “We know that they will break us, they want to divide us, and we know this.’’

In the coming weeks the Commission will host other discussions on the violence that occurred at Marikana.


Wits Vuvuzela: Striking miners should have a fund: expert, 1 April 2014

Wits Vuvuzela: VIDEO: Marikana first anniversary, 16 August 2013