NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

NUMSA statement on the Zama Zama tragedy

13 September 2016, Posted in Press Releases

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa is appalled at the human tragedy unfolding at the gold–mine in Langlaagte, Johannesburg.

A group of independent mine-workers – known as Zama Zamas (Try your luck) – entered the disused mine on 7 September to try to dig out a few nuggets of gold ore to earn a few rands. After they did not return the next day, more Zama Zamas went down to search for them, but they were then all trapped by a fire which caused poisonous carbon monoxide gas and smoke to discharge.

Only three of the rescuers have been brought out so far and further rescue attempts have been put on hold because of the dangerous conditions underground. There are growing fears for the lives of those left, believed to be as many as 50.
Numsa sends its sympathy to the families and fellow workers of those still trapped underground and urges everything possible be done to rescue them.

This appalling tragedy highlights the extent of the crisis of unemployment and poverty facing the working class in South African. Only workers driven by utter desperation would risk their lives working in such dangerous conditions and poisonous atmosphere, and then also risk arrest for trespassing on the disused property of mining companies.

The Freedom Charter declared that “The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”. Yet these workers are demonised as “illegal” miners for extracting a tiny amount of that mineral wealth. And they still do not escape the capitalist relations of production, as in order to make any money they have to sell the ore they find – at around R500 for one gram of gold – to dealers who then can then sell it at a big profit.

The laws they are said to be breaking were passed in the days of colonialism and apartheid to safeguard the property and profits of the gold and diamond mining monopolies, which became super-rich from the surplus value created by the workers, who were paid poverty wages, and thousands died in accidents or contracted terminal illnesses.

Numsa has always demanded that the Freedom Charter be implemented by the nationalisation, under democratic workers’ control, of the whole mining industry. There must of course be regulation of mining, to ensure and improve health and safety in the mines, but these regulations will never be properly enforced so long as the mines are owned by monopoly capitalists who are driven solely by the need to maximise their profits.

In a class decided society, Numsa is extremely clear that the neo-liberal and capitalist policies advanced by the ruling ANC government will never address and secure nationalisation of mines, banks and monopoly industries under democratic worker control nor shall we see redistribution of wealth under an ANC government.

Patrick Craven, Numsa Acting Spokesperson: 083 376 7725