Hon Deputy Chairperson, hon Chairperson of the Select Committee on Economic Development, hon Adams, and hon members of the NCOP, we are gathered here today to mark a very special day, and we are proud of and thankful for the sacrifices and struggles of the working class. This is a day that evokes the memorable thoughts of Karl Marx, who called on workers of the world to unite, for they had "nothing to lose but their chains".
The celebrations that mark 1 May, which are held universally on what some people call Labour Day, lead one to think of the billions of people on this planet who, day in and day out, work to keep the wheels of industry turning - mining, agriculture, the trades and other avenues of working life. This is also a moment to reflect on the inequalities and exploitation which, in various theatres of the world, still grossly prejudice working people in their daily lives and further serve to impoverish the poor especially.
To mark this day we acknowledge that those who celebrated it in the past were committed to achieving a better world, with decent jobs, less onerous hours of work and improved wages. We salute them. They managed, in historic campaigns and protests, to reduce what was once a 10- or 12-hour working day to eight hours or even less, giving workers adequate time and the chance to improve their quality of life with their families and loved ones and to indulge in their natural hunger for learning, knowledge and teaching. They managed to do all this while pushing up rates of production and gaining for all working people increased status and meaning in society. In short, they kept the world going and helped to change it for the better. However, this planet is now host to no fewer than 7 billion people, so the scale of the problems ahead is obvious.
It is a cause for celebration that since the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, Workers' Day has been celebrated on the first day of May every year. The public holiday, enjoyed with families and friends, provides a respite from the battles that our workers, in common with workers in other parts of the world, have waged for their rights and social justice. Yet this day is also a reminder of the many challenges that still confront working people and the poor in South Africa, challenges that remain obstacles to sustainable human development.
The people of the South African working class have been at the forefront of the struggle for a democratic, nonracial, nonsexist, prosperous and united nation. They have grasped the point that workplace struggles cannot be separated from broader social struggles and that economic justice and equality cannot be achieved without national liberation.
In the year of the 18th anniversary of our political breakthrough, and the 30th anniversary of the historic 1973 Durban strike, we pay tribute to the millions of workers who fought for a truly democratic South Africa. We salute the many who sacrificed so much, so that all South Africans could enjoy rights of citizenship in their own country.
This day also falls close to the commemoration of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, which was on Saturday, 28 April 2012, a day when millions of people around the globe worked collaboratively to promote the prevention of occupational incidents and diseases. Championed by the International Labour Organisation, the day aims to raise awareness of occupational safety and health, and of the magnitude of work-related injuries, diseases and fatalities worldwide.
It is also the day on which the world's trade union movement holds its International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers, to honour the memory of victims of occupational incidents and diseases. These are not statistics - they are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters who were entrusted to industries as healthy individuals. Their loved ones could fully expect to welcome them home free of disease and injury, but they suffered death doing an honest day's work.
About a hundred years ago Sol Plaatje, the first secretary-general of the ANC, described the lives of mine employees as follows, and I quote:
... 200 000 subterranean heroes who by day and by night, for a mere pittance, lay down their limbs and their lives to the familiar "fall of rock" and who, at deep levels ranging from 1 000 feet to 1 000 yards in the bowels of the earth, sacrifice their lungs to the rock dust which develops miners' phthisis and pneumonia.
It is astounding that since Sol Plaatje's observations, close to 75 000 mineworkers have died and more than 1 million have been seriously injured as a result of accidents in the mining sector. It is estimated that many more have lost their lives as a result of tuberculosis, silicosis and other poor health conditions in the mines.
The mining industry has for decades been the backbone of our economy and a major provider of employment in South Africa, but the benefits of these contributions to development have always been overshadowed by the industry's poor health and safety records.
Workers in the mines have endured harsh working conditions, including crowded living in single-sex hostels, poor health and safety measures, and separation from their family members. The migrant labour system was once called a cancer, which indeed it was. Even today this sector's commitment to the health and safety of workers and communities affected by mining is questionable. This must change and death, injury and disease must be rooted out of mining.
You will recall that in the period before 1994 the mining industry used to report no less than 500 fatalities per annum due to occupation-related injuries. However, we recognise and commend the fact that there has been a downward trend since 1994. I can report, with a tinge of optimism but also deep regret, hon members, that during 2011 a total of 123 mineworkers were reported as having died, compared to 127 in 2010, which translates to about a 3% improvement in the actual number of mineworkers who died year on year.
The breakdown of the above-mentioned 123 mine deaths per commodity reported in 2011 is as follows: gold, 51; platinum, 37; coal, 12; and other commodities, 23. Other mines include diamonds, chrome and iron ore. The major gold and platinum mines are the main contributors with regard to accidents and loss of life. This is regrettable, as it is expected that these mines should have the appropriate measures and expertise to enhance health and safety.
So far in 2012 we have lost 39 lives in the South African mining industry, as compared to 42 in 2011. I am giving these statistics to show the comparison. We are hardly halfway through the year and already 39 lives have been lost. The number of mine injuries has been reduced by 35%, from 1024 in 2011 to 668 in 2012. Fall of ground accidents still remain the largest accident category and the predominant cause of fatalities, followed by transportation and machinery accidents.
However, there are more deaths in the industry as a result of occupational health diseases than occupational injuries. The recent Constitutional Court silicosis judgment, in the case between the late Mr Mankayi and AngloGold Ashanti, and the litigation in the United Kingdom against Anglo American, highlight the importance of having effective control measures in place to deal with occupational health hazards at the mines.
The health impacts are visible only long after the exposure, hence the tendency for miners not to be given the immediate attention they deserve. Exposure to silica dust is the main concern, as it leads to silicosis and, as we all know, that leads to lung cancer. It further predisposes miners to tuberculosis, and TB has thus remained a challenge in the mining industry. HIV/Aids has increased the incidence of TB substantially. Lastly, there is noise exposure, leading to noise-induced hearing loss, which is also debilitating, as it results in permanent disability and incapacitation. Although there has been an improvement in the number of fatalities, my department is still greatly concerned at the continued loss of lives in our mines. The department is responsible for enforcing the provisions of the Mine Health and Safety Act to ensure the achievement of the objective of zero harm. The extraction of the mineral wealth of our country should be done without killing, maiming or causing any occupational ill health and diseases.
Hence the department has adopted a principled approach of closing unsafe working areas or mines in terms of section 54 of the Mine Health and Safety Act, which is very unpopular with and unpleasant to employers. This is to ensure that employers take appropriate measures that will prevent harm to mine employees. There has been a significant improvement in health and safety since the department intensified the enforcement measures at mines. In fact, in the month of April 2012 the lowest number of fatalities was recorded - only three deaths occurred, as compared to other monthly figures in history where there were generally more than 11 deaths per month.
Health and safety in the mining industry could also improve significantly and in a sustainable manner if all chief executive officers of mining companies were to display more visible leadership at the mines. This would also go a long way in demonstrating the value of caring for mining employees, which they always talk about. Therefore, CEOs are urged to be more involved and visible in their respective mining operations, including when there is a fatality. There is also a need to ensure that accidents and occupational diseases are reduced through the adoption of advanced technologies, the leading practices available, and the immense research that has been done and is still ongoing through the Mine Health and Safety Council and other agencies, both locally and internationally. Employers have to ensure that leading practices are adopted by all mines. Some mines have been investigating this matter for far too long, yet they have proof that adoption has led to a significant improvement in other operations.
Since the late 19th century and the birth of the modern mining industry, single-sex hostels have been a significant feature of the labour system on the mines. The houses and living conditions of many workers on the mines were of a substandard nature, adversely impacting on their health, productivity and social wellbeing.
The hostel system for black mineworkers was run on racial and ethnic clan lines. Migrant labourers, on the other hand, were affected by these conditions to a greater extent, as they were denied a normal family life. They were subjected to poor living conditions in single-sex hostels, resulting in social disruption. This also contributed largely to the provenance and spread of HIV/Aids and TB in South Africa.
Government and stakeholders have acknowledged that the development of acceptable and sustainable housing and living conditions for mineworkers can be realised through private-sector involvement in the upgrading of hostels to decent singles accommodation and the conversion of hostels to family housing, as part of improving the housing and living conditions of mineworkers in terms of the reviewed Mining Charter.
A two-day summit was held in November 2011 to review the state of health and safety in the mining sector. During the summit, the government, unions and business made commitments that would address silicosis, noise-induced hearing loss, TB, HIV/Aids and the general health of employees. The department, in collaboration with the departments of Health and Labour, organised labour, employers and other relevant stakeholders, will monitor the situation through the Mine Health and Safety Council to ensure that the summit commitments and action plans are implemented.
There is also a need to ensure that mineworkers have the knowledge and skills to exercise their right to withdraw from or to refuse to work in dangerous, unhealthy, risky or hazardous environments.
We very often compare the number of fatalities, draw trend lines, do regression analysis and so on, in regard to the health and safety data, and that is important. However, it does not speak to the pain and suffering that has to be endured by the relatives of the deceased miners. Thank you. [Time expired.] [Applause.]