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By Reports by Penwell Dlamini | Jul 05, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

WHILE the rest of the country is in a jubilant mood because of the World Cup, workers at the Aurora Mine in Grootvlei, Springs, have reached rock-bottom. They don't know when their misery will end.

A Sowetan team spent the night there on Wednesday. The despair is tangible. All the workers ask is "Why, Zuma?". Written on a large placard, this sign greets you as you arrive at the hostels.

Workers have not been paid in months, and don't know what is happening because no one is telling them anything.

Khulubuse Zuma and his business partner Zondwa Mandela own the mine.

But what really hurts the miners is that Zuma and Mandela - President Jacob Zuma's nephew and former president Nelson Mandela's grandson, respectively, should understand their plight better and be concerned instead of just abandoning them.

I first met and befriended Khupiso Rateleki, 46, in May when I did a story on the mine. On Wednesday night he hosted me and photographer Bathini Mbatha.

Rateleki and 2000 other miners were last paid a full salary in January. The following month they were paid half. They haven't seen the paymaster since.

The water supply has been cut off at their hostels. The lights are still on but they don't know for how much longer.

Most of the rooms are dark because there are no bulbs. Most miners are too preoccupied with their hardship to care about the football on television in one of the rooms.

We spent most of the night in the room next door to Rateleki's since it had a longer candle and a brazier.

We listened to Rateleki, David Molungoa and Mxokozeli Tomsana relate their stories of misery.

"Feel it, it is not here," said Rateleki, describing the mood about the World Cup at the hostel. "It's the worst year of my life. We are starving here." .

I had brought a takeaway meal. As I tried to pass the chicken around, a piece fell into the brazier. Tomsana, 52, picked it up, dusted it off and began eating it, his first descent meal in days.

"I don't know how my body will feel today. It's been months since I last tasted meat," Tomsana said.

Rateleki continued talking about their plight.

"We have finished the maize we used to steal from a nearby farm. The younger miners now steal beans from another farm because they can run fast enough to escape the boer's bullets and dogs," he laughed.

"I cannot even visit my wife like this. I can't perform anything," Tomsana said.

The conversation continued deep into the night. When we were all exhausted, I crawled into my sleeping bag - fully clothed like all the miners.

They had to be ready for their only meal of the day - a piece of bread and watery soup served at daybreak.

"The Indian is here," a man shouted at the top of his voice at 6.30am. He blew a whistle, just in case his colleagues had missed the wake-up call.

Everyone jumped out of bed, grabbed a plate and headed for the queue outside.

We joined the queue and got a quarter of bread each, pap and soup mixed with cabbage and potatoes.

Amid, the Good Samaritan who did not want to give his last name, watched the men as they queued orderly.

"This is the best we can do," he said. "Please don't write bad things. They will stop the food and these people will die," Amid said, puffing on his cigarette.

The feeding takes less than 15 minutes. As we rush back to Rateleki's room an old man in a T-shirt and underwear comes running with his dish.

He stumbles and falls. Picks himself up and rushes to the feeding van but it's gone.

Seeing the despair on his face my colleague gives him his food.

"Thanks," he says in a soft voice.

No one eats the food. They are saving it for later.

The number of miners in the hostel has dropped drastically since our last visit.

"Those with families in the country have been fetched and more than 100 were taken by a contractor last week. But for us we have to wait," Rateleki said.

"Those with girlfriends in the nearby Payneville informal settlement have visited them to get something from (their) social grants."

There is a knock at the door. The man has come to collect R5 for water. Every room contributes R5 every month to the R400 they pay Nana Maseko to fetch water from her home.

"I just want my money, then I will go back to my wife and four kids in Lesotho," Rateleki said.


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