2014-05-28 13:38:00

South African Bishops give concrete aid to suffering mining community

(Vatican Radio) The Southern African Bishops’ Conference has donated 75,000 Rands to the diocese of Rustenburg in South Africa that is assisting tens of thousands of vulnerable people affected by crippling strikes by platinum miners. 

The strikes, in their 18th week, are the longest and the most violent in the history of South Africa’s mines. They pit the world’s top platinum producers – Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin – against the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. 

The stoppage is pushing the nation into recession, but it has also slid into violence with dozens of non-striking miners killed since the start of the protest.

It is also aggravating the already serious humanitarian conditions in the mining community and in the surrounding settlements where people, many of whom are affected by HIV, are starving.

The Bishop of Rustenburg, Kevin Dowling, who runs a big hospice (Tapologo), care centers, soup kitchens, clinics and Anti-Retroviral rollout centers, is struggling to assist the desperate mining community in Rustenburg.

He told Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni that the government has appointed a new Mining Minister who has pledged to enter into negotiations between the strikers union and the mine owners.

Listen to the interview…

Bishop Dowling says the Mining Minister has called for a resolution “but whether he will actually enter the fray is to be seen”. He says that the Government has stayed out all along “saying that this is a conflict between business and the workers”.

But Dowling points out that “it is the most protracted and violent strike in our history and it’s ruining the economy, so the government, in my mind, can’t take a back seat” He says it’s got to enter and use the appropriate bodies for negotiation, all the stake-holders must come together and there must be an arbitration – not a mediation – and a solution must be forced through “which means compromise”.

Bishop Dowling describes the terrible situation of suffering on the ground “particularly for the communities that have nothing to do with the strike”.

“Emaciated people on ARV drugs, orphaned children having food stolen off them. We can’t even give our kiddies – our aids orphans – a meal a day because our Center was attacked by the miners and all the food stolen” he said.

“I could go on and on about all the examples of terrible violence by the strikers against innocent people and nothing has been done about this” he said.

Dowling says the miners are attacking the centers because they themselves are hungry, but he point out:  “that does not excuse them from stealing food from children who are far more vulnerable than them: child-headed households, aids orphans….”

Bishop Dowling speaks of widespread intimidation and recent murders of non-striking miners by  striking miners: “There have been 47 murders since the strike began – that’s more than the entire number that were killed in the Marikana tragedy in 2012”.

Regarding the donation by the Southern African Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Dowling says it is a big help. He says that last week a relief organization called “Gift of the Givers” came in with funding and food parcels, but he points out, although a very generous initiative “it was a drop in the ocean” because there are thousands of affected, starving people.

Dowling says his diocese has been caring for many many thousands of starving and desperate people for many weeks now, “that’s what I let the bishops know, and that produced this very generous donation”.

He says they are going to be using “tactics” to make sure the food actually gets to the children and to the most needy. For example, he explained, Dowling and his staff  will be putting the food in small containers so that the children can fit them into their schoolbags and hopefully avoid being targeted,  and they will be asking needy people to bring small handbags to carry their food in, in the hope they will not be assaulted…

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