The transformation in the status of the black worker in the Free State Gold Mines, 1946-1995
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There are many roleplayers in the transformation process of the black gold mine-worker in the South African mining industry. These include the South African government, the mining companies, the Chamber of Mines, white mine-workers and finally the black workers themselves. The black labourers were first subsistence farmers, who came to the gold mines on an involuntary and temporary basis. When they could no longer survive on their subsistence economy, they looked to the mines for a steady income. Meanwhile, their lives were transformed as they came into contact with Western civilization. The migrant labour pattern has had tremendous effects on the general way of life of the black man in South Africa. He was not only transformed as a labourer, but as a person as well. For many decades the black labourer was not allowed to become involved in trade union activity. NUM was only granted access to Harmony Gold Mine in 1988 and then the workers united and demanded better wages, as well as improved living and working conditions. The important role NUM played in the transformation process of the black workers should not be overlooked. For the black workers there was strength in numbers. The Free State Goldfields came into production in the 1950s and the mining industry arrived al a crossroad. It could maintain the unskilled status quo of the black labour force or transform the industry and grant black labourers the same rights as whites. Political barriers and economic necessity prevented the industry from taking a new course and established labour structures were implemented on the Free State mines. The colour-bar was only removed in the mining industry in 1988 and black miners could only then obtain a blasting certificate and advance in their workplace. Working in a gold mine, was and still is dangerous. However, the mines have an envious record of maintaining high safety standards and providing excellent medical facilities for their workers. At Harmony Gold Mine, pioneering work is done in the field of AIDS and the Harmony Hospital is quite modern and well-equipped. Training facilities and career opportunities for the black workers have improved tremendously over the last few years. The black gold mine-worker of the nineties is better-trained, more productive and more informed than many years ago. They are still migrant workers, but their contracts have been extended to a period of 12 months. Conditions in the hostels improved likewise and facilities like M-Net and quarters for married workers are provided The black workers' diets are scientifically determined and many sports facilities are readily available. The black labourers have not reached a utopia. Migrancy has its negative effects on family life, alcohol abuse IS a problem and the HIV virus poses a severe threat Improved productivity has led to down-scaling of the work force and unemployment IS rampant. Black gold mine-workers in the nineties have become integrated in the industry and in the economy of South Africa. A phenomenon which was postponed for many years and which leaves behind a history of hardship and struggle.
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