Mining Companies Revamping Traditional Living Arrangements to ‘Stem’ Spread of HIV
Several mining companies in South Africa are revamping their traditional living arrangements for workers in an effort to "stem" the spread of HIV, SAPA/Business Day reports. Under the colonial system and apartheid, mining companies generally relied on a migrant work force to provide the majority of their labor. The miners generally lived in "crowded, all-male hostels" far from their families. According to experts, such hostels were "dens of alcoholism, crime and prostitution," leading to the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. As many as 25% to 30% of miners are thought to be HIV-positive. Although the mining industry denies that the migrant labor system "substantially" contributed to the spread of HIV, some companies are encouraging the building of family housing in an effort to stem the spread of the disease. The South African Medical Research Council's migration project estimates that such a project could reduce HIV transmission by up to 40%. Charles Kendall, human resources manager for Lonmin Platinum, which has already constructed 1,000 family units for employees, said that family housing "makes sense" for the mining industry. "The international trend in business is to focus on core business and to stop worrying about all these extras like housing. With AIDS, we realized that wasn't going to work. We were going to have to be more proactive and comprehensive in the way we looked at this problem," he said. Lonmin plans to build an additional 2,000 dwellings. They will not meet the need for the company's 16,000 employees, but they are "at least a start," Kendall said.
Not Far Enough
Mining unions said that the industry is not going far enough. "While the industry is starting to talk about, 'Yes, this is important,' they're not saying, 'This is important, let's change it,'" Moferefere Lekorotsoanoe, a spokesperson for the National Union of Mineworkers, said, adding, "Most of these mining houses, when you raise the issue, they make excuses and say this is a very costly exercise." Industry executives counter that housing is "only part of the solution" and note that many miners want their families to stay on "traditional land," while other workers who come to South Africa from neighboring countries cannot bring their families due to immigration laws (SAPA/Business Day, 9/12).