“The mineral resources of this country belongs to all South Africans and only through nationalisation will the country enjoy a more democratic and socialised ownership and control of mineral wealth by all including the workers,” the Economic Freedom Fighters’ leader said in a speech to the assembly.
Malema said most mineworkers still earned between R4000 and R6000 a month and politicians needed to ensure they were not paid less than R12,500 – the sum demanded by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) in this year’s five-month platinum strike.
“The problem is that mining companies refuse to shed off their historical baggage, and still exercise authority to continue the pre-apartheid and apartheid project of enslaving Africans in these mines and rejecting them in the land of their own birth.”
Malema added that historically mining houses were drawn to South Africa by cheap black labour, “labour that has been, and still is working and living in slave-like conditions”.
The mineworkers’ community was plagued by occupational disease, and many were driven to suicide because their self-esteem was eroded by their inability to support their families, he added.
Malema therefore called on Parliament to set up a commission to probe the remuneration and working conditions of mineworkers.
It should consider the practice of transfer pricing, the affordability of a minimum sectoral wage of R12,500 and new legislation to impose standards on housing and health care on mining houses.
Malema found support from the Congress of the People’s Willie Madisha, who said: “We need to follow the Nordic model of injecting a healthy dose of socialism in a capitalist order of the day. In the complex world of today it is not either/or.”
But the EFF leader was accused of populism by the Democratic Alliance for calling for nationalisation. He clashed with Deputy Mineral Resources Minister Godfrey Oliphant, who suggested he was uninformed and unqualified to plead the cause of miners because he had never set foot underground.
Oliphant said the ANC remained committed to introducing a national minimum wage for all workers and its members could talk with authority on mines, “not you”.
“The struggle for better conditions for mineworkers is historical and continues to be of utmost priority to the African National Congress,” he said.
“It is difficult to argue with people who have the laws in front of them, they distort them, they come and talk about mineworkers and some of them have never seen an underground mine in their lives.”
He said it was a distortion to hold up Marikana as representative of the industry and insisted that implementation of the Mining Charter had led to considerable improvement in living conditions for miners elsewhere.
“There are over 1700 mines in this country. That one is just one of them.”
Malema countered that it was naive to argue that he could not pronounce on the plight of miners because he was not one of them.
“It looks like you are going to be a deputy minister for a very long time because of your lack of grasping of issues,” he told Oliphant.
“We are mentioning Marikana because there was killing of people in Marikana and we mention it deliberately because it pains you, and we are going to mention it until you become red.
“We know this country and therefore you are not qualified to tell us that we mention Marikana because we don’t know other mines. That is being naive to even suggest that people can only talk about the mines if they have been underground. That is so petty and naive.”
When asked to withdraw the statement he refused.
DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane supported Malema’s call for the legislature to look into living conditions at mines, but said the EFF and ANC’s economic and labour policies were a recipe for further job losses in the sector.
“What is happening in our mining industry is a disgrace. The conditions that existed at Marikana prior to the massacre still exist today,” Maimane said.
He added: “The EFF-ANC approach to mining will be disastrous. It will mean more mineworkers will be unemployed; it will result in more cronyism and corruption; it will hurt the very people it is supposedly meant to help.”
The DA proposed that a parliamentary committee mull challenges South Africa faced in drawing investment to the mining sector and combating job losses.
Malema retorted to Maimane that “nobody will take away the right of miners to strike”.
Both the EFF and the DA’s proposals were voted down. The ruling party said there was no need for a parliamentary committee as government was monitoring mining houses’ compliance with the charter.
“We don’t need this ad hoc committee,” ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani said.