Death in the pit of sexism

Women working in the belly of the Earth face a double battle.

Pinky Mosiane was 27 when her body was found in a pool of blood in a mine shaft.

Her death exposes the growing problem of forced transactional sex as more women join the mining workforce.

It also represents a miscarriage of justice, with little more than lip service from the industry.

Monday, February 6 2012, began as a normal working day for Mosiane at Anglo American Platinum’s Khomanani Mine, just outside Rustenburg.

It ended in murder.

As a mine worker, Mosiane risked life and limb to provide for her family and faced all kinds of safety hazards underground.

Rape and murder should not have been among them.

The 27-year-old woman from Tshing, outside Ventersdorp in North West, had been working at the mine for just under three months.

After her death, normality quickly resumed at the mine. But the lives of her family members have been shattered and they cannot find closure.

No one has been arrested for her murder.

Concerned about the silence around Mosiane’s death, media NGO Workers’ World embarked on a mission to find why there had been so little progress.

Of even greater concern was the lack of outcry by ordinary South Africans, government officials and human rights agencies.

Even trade unions, with their long history of fighting oppression and exploitation, have done virtually nothing beyond initial press statements condemning the murder.

With no information but her name and home township to go on, myself and two colleagues set about tracing her family.

We soon met her younger sister Mooki, who led us to her uncle whose permission we needed to consult the family.

A family reels

Mosiane’s uncle, Isaac, described his niece: “She was very loving and caring. Always smiling, she was friendly to everyone and you would never find Pinky angry. She loved everyone and was very respectful at home.”

Mooki described a sister and friend whom she could talk to about anything.

Her sister was happy at work and proud of her job. She would take videos with her cellphone underground to show them what she did.

Mosiane was excited that she was finally going to be able to build a house for her mother.

The news of her death was difficult to bear.

Her brother Tebogo was first to hear of it.

He received a phone call from a woman, who told him something bad had happened to his sister.

He then had to tell the rest of the family.

Mooki said: “I was preparing myself to go to work.

My brother was crying and I was amazed at why he was crying like that.

Then I assumed that maybe he had girlfriend problems until he brought in a neighbour who broke the news of Pinky’s death.”

Mosiane’s daughter, Didintle, was seven years old at the time.

Traumatised by what had happened to her mother, she failed at school last year.

Mosiane’s mother, Mary, has to keep her grief in check so she can help her granddaughter pick up the pieces.

Mary said: “The other thing that hurt me the most is Didintle because she sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night asking for her mother.

“She asks me about her mother and I have to tell her that her mother is no more. She would ask me for the photos of her father and mother in the middle of the night. She would forget for some time and then starts crying again and asking for her mother.”

A company’s feeble response

We have little to show for our efforts to obtain information from Anglo American Platinum about Mosiane’s case.

The company’s media and external relations manager, Mpumi Sithole, sent an email saying: “Anglo American Platinum was saddened by the death of Ms Binky Moseane (sic) who was assaulted and killed underground at Khomanani Mine.

“The South African Police Services’ investigation into this matter continues and the company continues to support the investigation.”

Sithole said they had “taken steps to improve the safety of women working underground . . . so as not to deter women from seeking employment underground”.

She further said: “We have established an anonymous tip-off line for sexual harassment-related allegations and reporting by affected employees.

“Several cases have already been dealt with which resulted in some employees being dismissed in 2012.”

For the Chamber of Mines, women’s safety is not of particular concern. Its spokesperson Jabu Maphalala reportedly said just after Mosiane’s murder that safety in the mines “is an issue, but the chamber deals with safety issues such as rock falls, dust and noise, and does not deal with gender-specific safety issues”.

Trade union rhetoric

Although Mosiane had not joined a trade union by the time she was killed, we went for answers to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the majority union at the mine at the time.

No responses were forthcoming.

But Sanki Molefe, a female miner and regional chairperson of the NUM’s women’s structure in Rustenburg, said: “The death of Pinky Mosiane came as a shock to me and . . . omama (women) who are working underground.

“It was the first incident of its kind to happen in the mining industry since women were employed.”

The NUM said in its secretariat report at its national congress last May that “women’s oppression in our workplaces cannot be postponed as if it were a side issue”.

A brief reference to Mosiane’s murder is included later in the report, but only in the context of an Australian campaign on violence against women, the White Ribbon Campaign, which the union intended to raise the profile of. But there has been no action to back up their words.

In the days after Mosiane’s murder, the NUM’s general secretary, Frans Baleni, was quoted as saying it was “disappointing that women workers . . . while being subjected to the evils of capitalism, face yet another challenge . . . of being invaded and killed by co-workers who are supposed to be their protectors and comrades in arms”.

Cosatu’s national gender coordinator, Gertrude Mtsweni, reportedly said the murder of “this heroine of the working class” was an atrocity and a “primitive act that takes us back to the Stone Age”.

But after the rhetoric, nothing.

Transactional sex as a norm

According to the mining charter, women should form 12% of mining companies’ workforces.

While this allows women access to work previously reserved for men, it comes at a high price.

Research by the Bench Marks Foundation, which monitors corporate social responsibility performance, reveals how this has left women vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse.

Researcher David van Wyk says the mining charter does not specify how women are to be deployed in mines, so a hostile environment persists.

“In the morning shifts . . . you would have between 10 and 12 women for every 100 men going underground,” he says.

Mosiane’s case, according to him, is an extreme example of what has become the norm.

Forced contractual sex is rife on the mines.

The men in the team, according to Van Wyk, insist on doing the hard physical labour underground, “and they then come to contractual arrangements with the women on the team that particular men would do a particular woman’s physical work in return for sex”.

This is done to meet targets to secure bonuses, which the men feel the women hold them back from receiving.

Mining bosses turn a blind eye, he says, and so do the unions.

The NUM’s spokesperson, Lesiba Seshoka, denied that this practice existed in a recent interview on eNCA.

But Van Wyk says the situation is so dire that one has to be very careful not to slip on condoms underground.

Molefe agreed that transactional sex occurred.

“As much as there are men who take advantage of the vulnerability of women, most of the women are not willing to come forward fearing that they might lose their jobs,” she says.

In the Bench Marks research, an Anglo American Platinum HR manager reveals how female mine workers are fondled and groped by their male colleagues in lifts on their way underground.

A crime unsolved

Mosiane’s family members still don’t know the real circumstances surrounding her rape and murder.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said: “The case was reported to us by the mine management and then we had to intervene by going to see what was happening in the mine.

It was then confirmed that there was a dead body of a woman who was lying in a pool of blood underground in one of the shafts and there were then elements of rape and elements of assault.”

The postmortem confirmed that Mosiane was raped.

Little progress has been made in solving the murder because of the circumstances in which she worked.

“As you understand that underground, there are hundreds and hundreds of men who are working there. And it is then a very lengthy process that we have to go through to try and link one of those people with the rape by trying to check their DNA,” said Ngubane.

This is no comfort to Pinky’s family.

Her mother says: “Ever since Pinky’s death, they say the case is still on but no one has been arrested.

“I know I will benefit nothing from them catching Pinky’s murderers but I wish that they could also be arrested and spend their lives in jail . . . my child died such a painful death. What distresses me the most is that she died at work.”

Last year, more than 64 000 rapes were reported. Mosiane’s case highlights a multifaceted crisis with little being done to effectively protect black working class women from this scourge.

Mosiane’s case exposes the weakness of our trade unions, who have failed to take up her case but instead wage political battles with the ruling party.

Female workers’ concerns barely feature on collective bargaining agendas and if they do, they are among the first to be compromised.

The justice system’s failure in Pinky’s case and thousands of others has deepened the culture of impunity, in which men know they can get away with murder – even at work.

In response, the STOP Violence against Women, Justice for Pinky Mosiane Campaign was started by

more than 20 organisations, including community groups, NGOs and trade unions.

» Magija is a radio producer and news writer working for Workers’ World Media Productions


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