Credit: Contributed


(GIN)—Prayers are being said this week for 34 men, employees of the U.K. mining company, Lonmin, who were fatally shot Aug. 16, 2012, during a strike and protest action over pay and conditions at the Marikana platinum mine.

The shootings, by the South African Police Service, unleashed a national crisis. A commission, appointed by President Jacob Zuma, found the “decisive cause” of events on Aug. 16, 2012, was an unlawful and reckless decision by senior police officials to disarm and disperse the strikers, by force if necessary.

But the commission dug deeper into the context of the strike, namely, the horrendous living conditions for mine workers at Marikana that “created an environment conducive to the creation of tension and labor unrest.”

Four years after the massacre, some 13,500 workers still lack decent shelter, according to a scathing new report by Amnesty International, charging the company with “excuses, evasions and lies.”

A Lonmin worker described his living conditions:

“We have many instances where we run out of water. We have many instances where we have no electricity, and this can go on for days where we are without water or electricity. Even the back houses [toilets] we use are terrible, there are always flies that get into your shack.”

Lonmin is well aware of the situation. In fact, they promised to construct 5,500 houses for workers by 2011. By 2012 they had built just three.

Nkaneng, in Marikana, is one of many abject slum settlements with shacks built out of metal sheets and bits of wood. Some 15,000 Lonmin workers live in Nkaneng, adjacent to Lonmin operations and within its mine lease area. Garbage is not collected and when it rains, the roads become rivers of mud. In winter the houses are cold and during heavy rains, they leak.

At the commission hearing, Lonmin was compelled to admit that the conditions at Nkaneng were “truly appalling.”

Under international standards on business and human rights, Lonmin must ensure that employees have access to adequate housing as outlined in the “U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,” and endorsed by the U.N. Human Rights Council. Housing is also required by South Africa’s Mining Charter.

Ben Magara of Zimbabwe, who took over as Lonmin’s chief executive a year after the massacre, faulted the workers for failing to understand that decisions have to be for the business . . . “If you don’t have a thriving profitable business and you are not doing it safely and at the right costs, you are going to go down—Black or white,” he said.

But this year, safety was in short supply as 49 mine workers were killed on the job, an increase from the 77 killed in all of 2015.

“This is a serious setback,” said mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane. “We should not place value on profits over the lives of workers.”

(GIN)—At their meeting next month in Geneva, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child will review reports detailing the obstacles, risks and challenges imposed by governments that limit the prospects for children to succeed.

Among the countries to be reviewed is Sierra Leone, whose ban on admitting pregnant girls to mainstream schools was the subject of a briefing paper called “Shamed and Blamed.” Submitted by Amnesty International, it faults the policy expressed by Minister Minkailu Bah that “visibly pregnant girls would be a negative influence to other innocent girls.”

Earlier this year, an “alternative education initiative” was launched to reach the more than 14,000 teenage girls who became pregnant during the Ebola crisis, including 11,000 who were in school before the outbreak, according to a study by UNFPA.

But the home study and alternative schools program give a lesser standard of education, say critics, and some of the girls are saddened by their exclusion from their former schoolmates.

“I miss going to my normal school,” said Adama Conteh, 19, who was in her second year at junior secondary school when she became pregnant. “I miss playing and talking with my friends.”

Students in the alternative classes are still not allowed to take exams to get into senior secondary school or college if they are visibly pregnant, and there are no alternative options for that, notes Amnesty International.

West African Amnesty researcher Sabrina Mahtani urged the government to protect the right of girls to continue in mainstream schools and take exams equally with others, should they wish to do so.

The alternative curriculum must also be monitored to determine its quality, she said. Currently, classes are held just three times a week for a couple of hours.

But Olive Musa of the ministry’s non-formal education program was doubtful that Amnesty’s recommendations could be implemented.

“I do not think it is morally right, and considering the culture we have, we are yet to reach that point for accepting that if you are visibly pregnant, you can take exams with those who are not,” Musa said. “Of course in college, universities, no one cares, but at that tender age, people will want to frown on it.”

Amnesty countered, “In Sierra Leone, education is being treated as a privilege that can be taken away from girls as punishment for getting pregnant, rather than as the right of all children. The banning of girls from mainstream school and from taking exams is a human rights violation with long-term implications in a country where just 52 percent of girls aged 15 to 24 are literate.

“The ban on pregnant girls … creates additional obstacles for these girls to progress into further education or secure employment. The ban therefore risks that early pregnancy becomes the event that defines the rest of a girl’s life.”