‘Four people share a slice of bread whenever food is brought underground, four people shared an orange but we were determined to bring change.’
Despite the harsh conditions, women were determined to participate in the underground strike at Lanxess Chrome Mine in Rustenburg, North West for change, they said on Monday.
“It was tough. We slept on pieces of boxes on hard rocks, we were hungry and survived on water.
“Four people share a slice of bread whenever food is brought underground, four people shared an orange but we were determined to bring change,” Mmasabata Sehumelo said.
“Some have left young children at home, there is a woman who has a one-year-old child, We asked her to leave but she refused to leave.
“She told us she is determined to continue with the strike to the bitter end.
“We have waged a series of protests without any luck, we decided to take an option that will bring results. On June 19 we decided not to come out, our families were expecting us to come back home in the afternoon as usual but we did not, ” she said.
“My husband and children come to look for me at the mine. I talked to them [through a two-way radio] and assured them I am safe and will be home once the strike was over.”
She said on day three of the strike they came out after they were misled that an agreement was reached, but once it become clear that nothing was agreed on, they went back underground.
The mother of four was one of the 27 women who participated in the underground sit-in at the Bleskop mine.
“My children were excited to see me on Thursday night. They were so happy. They tell me not to go for ever each time I leave home,” she said.
Another worker, who identified herself as Everlyn for fear of being victimised, said no one was forced to participate in the underground strike.
“It just happened in the morning when we were going underground and no one was forced to embark on the strike, as other employees left immediately after finding that there is a strike underground,” she said.
She said it was not easy because children did not spend enough time with their parents as it was school holidays.
“Our families were stressed, my mum came to work from Thursday when she couldn’t get hold of me. We talked over the radio, the situation was stressing too much, families didn’t know what was happening.
“One woman came all the way from the Eastern Cape when she could not find her husband.”
While African News Agency was speaking to her, friends and neighbours came to visit her and to check whether she was fine following the strike.
They all said they were taken by surprise and shocked to learn that their friend was in an underground strike.
The women said they sang hymns and prayed while they were underground and believed prayer sustained them through the strike.
“It was like a church, we prayed, preached and sang hymns,” Sehumelo said.
About 290 workers aligned to the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) staged an eight-day underground sit-in at Lanxess demanding that their union to be recognised, and the reinstatement of 56 workes who were dismissed.
They also wanted a mine captain accused of sexual harrasment to be suspended and drastic action taken against the human resources manger for not taking steps against the mine captain when the matter was reported to her.
The underground strike ended on 27 June after an agreement between the union and mine management, which recognised Numsa, agreed to review 56 the dismissals.
It also agreed that workers who participated in the strike would not be fired but issued with warnings valid for six months.