Collective bargaining needs to include all matters of mutual interest such as housing, sources of supplies, workshops for maintenance and repairs, uniforms, food, security services, administrative services and all the other inputs.

Ben Turok’s article How can we change the way our mines operate? was first published in Business day and BDlive today.   Ben Turok, MP, is part of the team convening an “Experts Consultation on Beneficiation” at the Industrial Development Corporation on October 16.   Courtesy of Business Day here are some random extracts.

AS TV brings us more detailed pictures of the living conditions of Lonmin miners, so it becomes clearer that the causes of the tragedy at Marikana have deep roots.   Low wages may have been the reason for the strike but the whole environment is part of the problem.

There is no escaping the conclusion that the mining industry owes us an explanation for the appalling environment in which it operates.   And the government also has some explaining to do.

How could Lonmin be allowed to mine for platinum without being obliged to provide housing for its employees?   Who allowed shanty towns to be erected with their tin spaza shops to serve the workers?   Are there proper schools, clinics and training centres in the area?   Where does middle management live?   Where does the company source its provisions and the services needed to run a complex operation?   Is any of this local, or is it all flown in from Johannesburg?

We must examine the whole value chain of mining from the moment of exploration to the final product.   We need to know where they source their supplies, where they have workshops for maintenance and repairs, where they get uniforms, food, security services, administrative services and all the other inputs.

We need to know how much processing and beneficiation happens at our mines and who provides the licences for exporting nonbeneficiated minerals.   We need to know whether the provisions of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act are being observed, namely that people intending to beneficiate any mineral mined in SA may do so only after written notice and in consultation with the minister.

Even if the present dispute is settled by a rise in wages, this is not good enough.   We want to see decent social conditions in the mining areas — schools, shops, small industry and all the facilities of a healthy society.   Even if the mines continue to depend on migrant workers, their conditions need to be decent.   None of this will happen without solid research of the whole value chain of mining.

SA is the country that is best endowed with mineral wealth in the world.   It is also one the worst in beneficiating, reflecting once again the dualism in our country.   How can we promote a change in the way at least some of the mines operate?   If they are encouraged to retain more of the ores within the country and beneficiate it themselves or in a chain of smaller industries, this would change the whole environment in those areas.

The key lies in identifying those multipliers that change economies from mere exporters of raw ores to more sophisticated industrial zones.   There are many arguments against this: the need for very large companies, the small size of the local market, the lack of skills, the inadequate supply of energy and water, and so on.   Yet we have high-level metallurgists and engineers, we are able to produce hi-tech goods and we have a vibrant private sector with a history of productive capacity, including machines and machine tools.   So why do we allow the mines to import up to 70% of their requirements?