I cut my teeth mining on the platinum mines of South Africa. After the death of thirteen miners in the failure of the Bafokeng (Impala) platinum tailings facility, I wa sent out to do the leg-work of measurement and sample-taking for my professor who had been called on to establish the cause of the failure.
I went on to design and oversee initial construction of the new tailings dam that replaced the one that failed. I then, with Gordon MacPhail investigated the stability and instability of many platinum tailings facilities in the area.
My family had a cottage on a farm just near the mines and we would go out every weekend to the cottage where we climbed the mountains, swam in the streams, and ate the slaughtered pigs and sheep in an orgy of meat on the braai.
Thus it is with sadness that I now read of more deaths on those mines. Eighteen at last report. We did find some twenty skeletons in the tailings that flowed out from the failed facility, so death in large numbers is not new to these mines.
What is hardly mentioned in the new reports of these new deaths is the struggle between rival unions and the various tribes who seek to gain advantage from the mining profits. Old, established trade unions fight with new , militant trade unions for control. The Bafokeng people seek to exclude the Zulus and Xhosa from gaining access to the mining wealth.
These deaths are but a tiny reflection of a mighty tribal fight over the mines. And we bluff ourselves if we think of it as mere mining company intransigence.
For there are thirteen tribes of blacks in South Africa and they have different, mutually unintelligible languages, histories, cultures, and claims to the lands on which the mines are located. The Bafokeng own the lands of the platinum mines and are wealthy. Other tribes are impoverished and fight to gain a foot-hold. Is it any wonder the ANC seeks to nationalize the mines: how else to deprive the Bafokeng of their birth-right and spread the wealth to rival tribes?
From the perspective of north America, we alternatively tut-tut at African violence or blame the mines for failure to control events. Or we blame the inept South African police for incompetence. I suspect most of the police were Bafokeng and quite happy to shoot a few of different race and langauge in defence of the mines and in retaliation for killing of their own.
Of course if this incident is not contained, it could lead to ugly tribal warfare, and we know how ugly that can get when we recall Hutu and Tutsi violence.
Then there is the role of traditional beliefs. Here is a paragraph on the way those prone to violence fortified themselves:
Local residents said an inyanga (herbalist) or sangoma (traditional healer) would perform a ritual on the mountain top and sprinkle the men with muti (traditional medicine) to “make them brave”.
Our maids in South Africa were addicted to muti. It scared away the spirits, brought strong men to your bed, made you fertile, made the kids strong, and ensured a good salary. No doubt muti was behind the success of the killings and the union rivalry.
As investors, we see the share price drop. So an investment rule: Sell when there are competing unions and strikes for higher wages, particularly if the British are the mine owners.
Here are some details of share price drops:
The incident has provoked widespread shock in South Africa, which has not seen such events since the end of Apartheid rule in 1994. Following news of the massacre shares in Lonmin fell 6.7% on the London Stock Exchange and 7.3% in Johannesburg; the share-price has fallen 13% since the start of the strike. In January this year a similar round of strikes closed the Impala Platinum mine (the world’s largest Platinum mine, accounting for 25% of global production) for six weeks, led to at least three deaths, and pushed the price of Platinum up by 15%
Thus we look to the British to drop colonialism, pay a decent wage, get share prices up, or get out and leave it to the Bafokeng.