The Price of Gold: Day 19
Virginia, Free State
Back in South Africa and, again you notice the change immediately from Lesotho. In the Virginia and Welkom area there are many gold mines, most of them not functional anymore. The houses are not characterful but are bland and fit for purpose. Many of them were accommodation owned by the mines that has been sold on to the miners after they closed.
This area is quite bleak and you realise that, with the mines closing, there is little work around and a huge amount of people that are in need of employment. In contrast to Lesotho, just a couple of hours away, there is no sign of farming and there is little chance of living off the land.
Luduko Enoch Madindala is 53 years old and lives in an old mine house in Welkom. When the mines closed down they sold off the accommodation to the miners and their families. He worked on the mines for 29 years and played soccer for the mine team The Lorraine Lions at the weekend.
“In the hostels we would stay with 15 people in one room. The food was bad, even the toilet was next to the kitchen. The bed was cement with a thin mattress and people would smoke in the rooms”.
He stated that they were abused by the mines. “We worked very hard and there was not enough money”. When he first started they would earn R136 per month and by the end they were only taking home R1600 per month.
Solomon Tshehle Hlalele, 57, lives in Kutlwanong in the Free State. He started working in the mines wen he was 21 years old and spent the next 31 years working underground. He has 1st degree silicosis and received R31,000 in compensation when he was diagnosed in 1998. He was told to carry on working and continued for another 12 years working underground before taking voluntary retrenchment. After his diagnosis he was given no information or support for his silicosis.
In his years worming on the mines he achieved certificates in winch driving, loco driving, loader driving and PTV. These are all skills that cannot be used outside the mines. “There is nothing I can do after leaving the mines.” he said “I trained for underground work, I couldn’t drive a winch or a loco outside the mines.”
Solomon tried to go back to the mines in 2012 to get a job but they would not employ him due to his silicosis. “If you have silicosis, the mines won’t hire you”.
Matela Hlabathe had TB 3 times whilst working in the mines. Each time they gave him treatment but they didn’t move him, he continued to stay in the hostel. After 36 years working underground he took a retrenchment package and now lives off a government pension of R1410 per month. He has pulminary TB and received R39,000 compensation from the mine.
Vuyani Elliot Dwadube worked for 10 years as a brick maker in Cape Town before going to work on the mines. He worked for 16 years at Harmony Gold and was retrenchedin 1995. He has pulmonary TB and did not receive any compensation. His wife, Pamela, works as a domestic worker and nanny at the same house in Virgia where he works as a gardener.
Ezekiel Mutsana Masupha is 61 years old and is originally from Lesotho. He is staying in Welkom in the Free State now. He worked in the mines for 37 years and has silicosis from exposure to silica dust underground. His health stops him from working now and he survives off a social grant and a pension. To supplement this his wife is farming in Lesotho but his children are living in South Africa.