Many stores servicing the mining communities strung out in proximity to the road connec-ting the different mines in the area are shuttered, but the pawn shops are overflowing with household items that have been sold for next to nothing. In family homes, cooking pots once filled with solid chicken cuts now swim with chicken heads and feet instead.
“I would love to talk to you about what is going on but the problem is that I am just too hungry and I need to look for something to eat. The problem is here,” says a middle-aged man, pointing to his abdomen.
He claims to be a worker at Lonmin’s Karee Mine in Marikana. He walks away slowly down the dusty street.
Pawning – for good
We walk into a pawn shop overflowing with possessions. A woman graciously greets us and, as we introduce ourselves and tell her why we are there, she lightens up, eyes brimming with tears.
“I have been buying goods for next to nothing. People are selling stuff just to get a loaf of bread which has resulted in new clientele for my pawn shop. The other day, someone tried to sell their gumboots. Others are selling their work tools and this is affec-ting the business because there is only so much I can buy.
I have never had a lot of clients but now I have on average ten to 15 more clients on a daily basis,” she continues. “Some walk all the way from their communities carrying their TVs. It is very sad and some kids are not going to school, which compounds the problem because kids get food at school. When the last strike hit, it was hard. But this time, it’s even harder.”
Usually, when workers pawn, they return later to buy back their goods with interest when they get money again. But this time, they are not coming back, she says.
Chicken heads and feet
Business in the area has taken a knock, according to Paul Gouveia, the manager of Marikana Wholesalers. He says people are not buying what they usually buy and are purchasing a lot less.
Gouveia has been here for 25 years and has seen many miners come and go.
“I have very good relations with the people of this community and our usual customers are buying much less than what they are accustomed to,” he says. “The situation is so bad that they are not buying braai packs any more, but resorting to heads and feet in order to (have) the essential proteins that poultry provides.
“I have never experienced anything like this and it may lead to a point where theft will become a major issue in this area,” he says.
Fear of death, reprisal
Later, the hungry man we had spoken to earlier tracked us down again, desperate for his voice to be heard, one which he claims has been muffled by what he sees as far-fetched talk of a R12 500 salary, the raise Amcu is calling for. He feels that R12 500 is not attainable and says he would rather get the 9% platinum miners are offering, instead of going another month scrounging for food.
“I want to say to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu); please let us go back to work,” he pleads. “The politics is killing us and we are hungry. This is putting me in a situation where I will be killed for stealing mealie meal. I think we will even end up eating each other.”