Commissioners ‘fail’ to back SA miners says Bishop Seoka

27 January 2017

KEESA/SOLIFONDS

Seeking justice: Bishop Seoka (above, second from right) with a South African delegation at Shedhalle, an arts centre in Zürich. The muriel was produced by the widows of the Marikana killings, and forms part of an exhibition “Plough Back the Fruits: The Struggle for Justice and Restitution”

Seeking justice: Bishop Seoka (above, second from right) with a South African delegation at Shedhalle, an arts centre in Zürich. The muriel w...

THE former Bishop of Pretoria, the Rt Revd Jo Seoka, was in London this week to “expose the lie” that Lonmin, a British mining company, had met its obligations to workers at the Marikana mine, where 34 miners were shot dead by police in 2012 (News, 24 August, 2012).

Besides planning to speak at the Lonmin AGM, he met investors, including the Church’s Ethical Investment Group (EIAG). The Church Commissioners have about £220,000 invested in Lonmin; and the Church had a “moral obligation” to stand up for workers’ rights, Bishop Seoka said on Tuesday.

“Investors have had more than four years to ensure ethical practices are being followed in their investments, but have failed to do so,” he said. “We will not rest until justice is achieved for the massacred, injured, arrested, and the widows and orphans left behind.”

Bishop Seoka brings with him a list of demands from the Bench Marks Foundation, a charity that monitors corporate social responsibility, which he chairs. These include a living wage for mine workers, improved housing conditions, and compensation “to allow the widows and orphans and injured survivors a dignified existence”.

If the AGM fails to take a resolution to compel the company to address these demands by 16 August — the fifth anniversary of the killings — the Foundation will call for Lonmin’s mining licence to be revoked, and for institutional shareholders to disinvest.

The Church had a “moral obligation to promote human rights and the protection of workers”, Bishop Seoka said. It “ought to be providing leadership on these matters. . . It’s immoral for the Church to be profit-orientated at the expense of human life.”

A spokesman for the Commissioners said that they had recently visited mines and communities in South Africa and Zambia “to help inform the development of an extractive industries policy by the EIAG”. This had included a visit to Marikana to meet local communities and representatives of Lonmin. “We are currently engaging with a number of companies, including Lonmin, about issues at the mines and near by.”

An inquiry into the deaths at Marikana — the Farlam report — criticised Lonmin for not complying with its social and housing obligations. In August, Amnesty International released a report, Smoke and Mirrors: Lonmin’s failure to address housing conditions at Marikana, declaring that about 20,000 miners working for Lonmin at Marikana were “living in squalor in spite of legally binding commitments made by the company to build more houses”. The company had “provided false or misleading information to its shareholders and stakeholders about progress on the housing situation at Marikana”.

In December, Lonmin said that it would submit a plan to build workers’ housing that met government requirements, after the President, Jacob Zuma, threatened to revoke its mining permit unless it did so. Mr Zuma also announced that the South African government was ready to pay compensation to the victims.

Bishop Seoka described the changes made by Lonmin as “cosmetic” and “too little, too slow”.

“There are gestures that have taken place, such as an increase in salaries, but it’s not what the workers died for,” he said. Providing jobs for the widows of workers was not the correct response either, he said, and was contributing to the destruction of the family unit. Last year, the 15-year-old son of one of the men who died killed himself.

“We are not only asking for reparation, we are asking also for people to show that they regret what happened,” Bishop Seoka said.

A spokeswoman for Lonmin confirmed that Bishop Seoka had met the company’s CEO, Ben Magara, this week. She said that it would “seek ways to work in consultation with [the Bench Marks Foundation] on various matters, including housing, during 2017”. The company would address some of the issues raised at the AGM, after which further comment would be provided.

In a detailed statement on Thursday, Lonmin said that it had now provided housing for half of its entry-level workers, and had converted all its single-sex hostels into mixed family accommodation.

“Lonmin is in constant engagement with affected stakeholders, worker representatives and trades unions, including AMCU,” the statement continued, adding that it had begun a review last year of its housing strategy to ensure it met its employees’ needs.

All children who lost fathers in the Marikana massacre were also being given free education, including to university level, by the company, the statement said. 

A widow of the massacre, Ntombizolile Mosebetsane, quoted in press materials accompanying Bishop Seoka’s visit, described the impact of conditions at Lonmin: “working outside in the hot sun, windy, breathing that polluted dust blowing around, for the very company that made sure my husband died. I am learning no skills doing this work that will make my life better. Lonmin tells me that this job is a kind offer so that I can earn the money that my husband worked for in their mines, so that I can feed my children.”

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