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  • Eddie Rakabe | Suppressing the zama zamas is useless – they are also victims

Eddie Rakabe | Suppressing the zama zamas is useless – they are also victims

By on September 18, 2022 0

A zama zama arrested in Randfontein last September.

A show of force on zama zamas is an exercise in futility if the appetite for black market minerals persists and socio-economic conditions remain dire, writes Eddie Rakabe.

Some zama zamas (illegal artisanal miners) are the offspring of men (and women) who were once classified as “expired workers” and “rejected” by the expansive and exploitative migrant labor system that relied on incoming trains to bring young men to the South. African gold fields and outbound trains to get rid of weak, sick and uncontracted workers across the Southern African sub-region. The system was so perfect that trains had a weekly schedule to replenish labor recruited by a monopsony of labor recruiting agencies and bureaus with the help of coercive traditional chiefs. It was able to produce workers on an industrial scale, reaching 400,000 in some years.

To rephrase Hugh Masekala’s moving rebel cry against the degrading rail transport of migrant workers: these trains came from Namibia and Malawi; from Zambia and Zimbabwe; from Angola and Mozambique; Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland; from across the hinterland of southern and central Africa ferrying young and old Africans called upon to come and work under contract in the gold fields of Johannesburg on 16-hour shifts with almost no pay.

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