Mozambique & South Africa to sign Memo on Migrant Mine Workers

Image Source: Bas van de Kamp

Image Source: Bas van de Kamp

Johannesburg, South Africa (nsnbc) – The governments of Mozambique and South Africa agreed to work towards a Memorandum of Understanding on Mozambican migrant workers; particularly mine workers. The consensus to sign a new MoU came after recent violent episodes against Mozambican migrant workers in South Africa, leading to sharp criticism against the South African ANC government and reminders about the fact that Mozambique lent substantial support to the ANC during its anti-Apartheid struggle.

The new MoU will be a long overdue revision of a colonial era agreement on the recruitment of Mozambican labor for work in South African mines, dating back to 1964. There are approximately 43,000 registered Mozambican migrant mine workers in South Africa.

The consensus about working towards the signing of a new MoU was announced shortly after a meeting between Mozambican Labor Minister Vitoria Diogo and her South African counterpart Neliswe Mildred Oliphant. Diogo told the press in that:

“We have taken very significant steps. In the coming days experts from the two countries will harmonize the document which later will be signed in Maputo.”

The Mozambican Labor Minister noted that the new document, unlike the one from 1964, would not only pertain Mozambican mine workers but include Mozambican farm laborers too. There are approximately 12,000 Mozambican workers employed in South Africa’s agricultural sector.

Diogo stressed that no formal consensus had yet been reached, but that the Mozambican Frelimo government insists on the inclusion of workers in the agricultural sector and guarantees for the protection of mine worker’s rights and changes to the pension system.

Diogo noted that there is a difference between the Mozambican and the South African pension system that causes problems. South Africa pays out the pension in one lump after retirement, said Diogo, adding that there were cases where retired miners had spent their entire pension, plunging themselves and their family into poverty.

Other issues to be addressed in the new MoU would be tax issues and the security of miners in cases of the closure of mines and in cases of illness. Under the colonial era 1964 agreements, the Mozambican miners pay no tax. However, today there are mines that want to tax their workers. Some of the mining companies, when obliged to close mines, have paid the redundant miners a pittance by way of compensation. Diogo noted that:

“There are employers who pay the workers affected derisory compensation and others who pay nothing. … Things cannot continue like this. We have to reach an understanding.”

The Mozambican Labor Minister noted that Mozambican concerns had been presented at a meeting with the leadership of the South African Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg. The meeting resulted in a consensus on the compensation of workers who had contracted diseases due to their work in the mines. Diogo stressed that work is being done to return human dignity to those who have contributed so much to the economies of both countries.

The agreement to reform the agreements from 1964 and reach the new MoU came after violence against Mozambican migrant workers erupted in South Africa and criticism against the South African government from Mozambican government officials as well as by prominent voices from within Mozambique’s civil society.

South African President Jacob Zuma drew particular criticism when he called for “a day of prayer” for peace, prompting some to say that tangible political action and social justice was more important than prayers.

The renowned Mozambican author Mia Couto sent a passionate open letter to the South African President, reminding him about the fact that Mozambique was among the sternest supporters of the ANC’s struggle against apartheid. Zuma lived in Mozambique during the 1980s when he was the ANC’s Chief Representative in Mozambique. Couto wrote:

“I don’t remember ever seeing you without a bodyguard. … In fact it was we Mozambicans who acted as your bodyguards. For years we gave you more than refuge. We offered you a house and we gave you security at the cost of our security. You cannot possibly have forgotten this generosity”.

Mozambique, for its part, is in a situation where it is poised to become the world’s 2nd largest exporter of liquefied natural gas by 2020, and recent surveys concluded that the country has some of the world’s largest, still untapped coal resources.

Mozambique is, however, struggling with domestic disputes, particularly between the governing Frelimo and a Renamo leadership that issues thinly veiled threats about “not being able to control its insurgents forever.” Job-creation and job security, also for migrant workers, is a crucial factor for maintaining political stability and security as well as for the reintegration of Renamo militants into Mozambican civil society.

CH/L -nsnbc 01.06.2015

Written by Christof Lehmann 

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