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BROKE & BROKEN, THE SHAMEFUL LEGACY OF GOLD MINING IN SOUTH AFRICA
BROKE & BROKEN
THE SHAMEFUL LEGACY OF GOLD MINING IN SOUTH AFRICA
LUCAS LEDWABA & LEON SADIKI
ISBN 978 - 928337 - 30 - 0
Mokete Bokako is a shell of a man, a wreck whose already frail frame is being further depleted by silicosis.
He lives alone in a hovel in Roma, Lesotho. He is a man time has forgotten.
The story of Bokako is sadly the common thread among the fit and energetic young men from his native Lesotho.
It is a story that also rings true for their counterparts from other southern African states like Mozambique and Malawi.
At their fittest, they sign up for work in the mines of Johannesburg, burrowing deep into the bowels of the earth in search of the gems, especially gold, that makes money for faceless men sitting in air-conditioned offices in faraway capitals. What they get in exchange is a pittance that hardly lasts their lifetime.
The added bonus is silicosis, a chest infection they get from inhaling the dust that comes from drilling rocks underground.
Once they are diagnosed with silicosis, they are discarded - quicker than used condoms, to go die back home, penniless and, as the title of the books suggests, broke and broken.
This has been the lot of whole generations. A man enlists for work at the mines, at his prime, just like his father before him, and his father before him, like his father before him …
When they are at death’s door, they have nothing to show for their life’s toil.
Their sons who come after them, just like their fathers and uncles and every other male in their family, has no other options open to them but to go underground to eke out a semblance of a living.
It is honest work the men do but the dishonesty of those who own the mines is worse than the behaviour of common knaves.
Life in the same-sex hostels has from time immemorial turned God-fearing men into beasts bent on surviving the do-eat-dog world of their vocation. Parked sardine-like into dormitories that were never designed to allow them privacy, hygiene is the first casualty.
The racism of who gets to work in the dust is as only an Apartheid system could have engineered. The white mineworkers only drop down once their black peers have watered the area down to minimise the dust clouds.
The pay is just as insulting as the treatment meted out to them. They virtually have no rights.
Eric Gcilitshana, a worker activist, recalls that the mineworkers would be bitten into submission by mine security at the slightest whiff of a pending strike.
What the mine owners held over the heads of the workers was the right they abrogated to themselves top hire and fire at their whim.
For many of the men, being treated like slaves was often better than the spectre of returning home to a hungry family waiting for a plate of food.
But once silicosis hits, a mineworker becomes instantly surplus to the needs of the capitalists. The dreaded “hambakhaya” - Fanakalo for Go Home. This is the weapon of choice of the mine bosses, which they wield with impunity against anyone infected or non-pliant.
This is a tear-jerker that truly shows “the shameful legacy of gold mining in South Africa”. It is written with the journalese of captivating news features and the attendant award-winning pictures of the author duo, who are newspapermen.
The tale in this book is even more shameful when you consider that the mine bosses are opposing the class action by affected mineworkers and their families to sue for fair compensation.
The only positive out of this sad saga is that attorney Richard Spoor knows exactly how to handle this lawsuit. Otherwise the owners of the mines would get away with murder, the silent murder of men like Mokete Bokako.
It is a book one reads with a heavy heart as it exposes the cruelty of this ogre called white monopoly capital.
All that matters for the mining houses is the bottom line. The men who do the hard slog are merely expendable; nothing more, nothing less.
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