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Life on a South African mine, decades of squalor

August 19, 2012

MARIKANA (South Africa): From scrawny dogs wandering shanties and pit toilets, workers living at South Africa's tragedy-hit Marikana platinum mine still live in miserable conditions 18 years after the end of apartheid.

The police shooting which killed 34 mine workers on Thursday has not only highlighted the brutality faced by the workers, but has also put the spotlight on their dire living conditions, many of whom live in shacks at the foot of some of the world's richest platinum reserves.

Ian Buhlungu rents a shack built with corrugated iron and wood in a shantytown on a dusty plain outside the mine where he has no running water and uses a pit toilet.

“I want to be with my kids but I can't,” said the 47-year-old who is a single father after his wife died of tuberculosis two years ago.

Like thousands of others, he travelled from afar to work in the mine so as to earn enough to feed his daughter and twin sons, whom he was forced to leave behind in the care of his family in the rural Eastern Cape. “People who are not educated get a low salary and can't afford to feed their families,” he said.

South Africa's economy — Africa's largest, was built on the back of cheap black labour, workers who were harnessed to extract the country's deep reserves of gold, platinum and diamonds.

During the apartheid era, minority white rulers forced black South Africans to live in areas far removed from white cities without job opportunities, forcing them to become migrant workers on the mines living in tough conditions.—AFP