South African president tells mining companies to meet deadlines
With tensions high in South Africa’s mining sector, South African President Jacob Zuma waded into the discussion by telling mining companies that 2014 will be a year in which they are expected to hit many government deadlines.
Among those that he highlighted was the need for improved housing for mine workers. In a his annual state of the nation address, Zuma said mining, Africa's largest economy, could not afford more social unrest in the sector, Reuters reported.
"We need a mining sector that works," Zuma said in his annual state of the nation address to parliament.
"Let me also remind mining companies that 2014 is the deadline for them to improve housing and living conditions of mineworkers and to achieve a number of targets," he added.
In addition to provisions for better housing and worker conditions, South Africa's mining charter - Pretoria's blueprint for overhauling the industry - says mining companies must have 26 percent black ownership by the end of the year.
Despite some reforms in the 20 years since apartheid, many miners remain part of a century-old migrant labor system that sees them living in hostels at the mines far away from their families.
Thousands of others, especially in the platinum sector, live in shanty towns close to the mines with little electricity or sanitation, Reuters reported.
The poor conditions have been cited as the key reason for violent strikes during the past two years.
Anglo American Platinum has plans to build 20,000 homes within a decade and has already started converting single-sex hostels into family units.
Zuma, whose popularity has dipped in polls ahead of general elections on May 7, also touched on a recent wave of violent protests by residents of black townships unhappy with their living conditions.
In the last three months, South Africa has seen around 30 "service delivery" protests a day, but Zuma put a positive spin on the unrest, saying it was a sign of government success creating higher expectations among communities.
"When 95 percent of households have access to water, the 5 percent who still need to be provided for feel they cannot wait a moment longer," Zuma said. "Success is also the breeding ground of rising expectations."
Zuma's African National Congress, which came to power in South Africa's first democratic vote in 1994, is expected to extend its electoral dominance in May's ballot despite growing concerns over inefficiency and corruption.