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14

Saudi Gazette, Thursday, August 16, 2018

Opinion

SAUDI GAZETTE

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Rio’s poorest teens caught between traffickers and the law

Twilight of South African gold mining fuels job crisis

A

NTONIO’S story began one

sunny afternoon in a favela

near Copacabana beach when

he picked up a 9mm pistol. It

ended with his 10-year-old friend dead on

the ground.

Antonio, 17, calmly told a Rio de Ja-

neiro judge that the death of his friend

Marlon was an accident.

They had found the pistol under a wa-

ter tank and were playing, he said, when

“it went off.” Marlon was shot in the head.

“Had you used a pistol before?” the

judge asked.

“Never,” Antonio replied, while his

mother cried in the audience.

Antonio, who lives with seven broth-

ers in the Cantagalo favela, has not at-

tended school for two years. He’s been

detained briefly for drug dealing, spent

two weeks locked up for robbery, and now

A

BOUT 100 miners dressed in

high-visibility workwear, bala-

clavas, gloves and boots line

up against a shipping container

that serves as a makeshift office at the

Evander gold mine in South Africa.

They wait forlornly in the brisk High-

veld winter. Their hope is to get work.

This is the bitter daily routine for

men and women recently made redundant

from full-time employment at the mine,

100 kilometers east of Johannesburg.

“We have been coming here every

morning for the last three months from

5:00 am, waiting for the employer to call

our names. But no one comes. We carry

our certificates and work papers each

day,” Andile Skweyiya, 43, told AFP.

“There are no work opportunities any-

where for most of us,” Skweyiya said.

“If you don’t find work, you have to

go rob people to eat, and I don’t want to

do that.”

In May, mine owner Pan African re-

sources let go 1,710 of 1,800 workers at

the Evander Gold operation in Mpuma-

langa province, saying the site would

undergo “care and maintenance” but that

CAROLA

SOLÉ

MICHELLE

GUMEDE

could face a more serious prison term.

“Life in the favelas is like that. You

have to pray a lot that your son doesn’t

get involved in crime,” said his mother

Vladereiz, 45, as she left the youth court

in Rio, where AFP had rare access. She

did not want her family name to be used.

In the waiting room outside the court-

room, there were a dozen other stories of

young, mostly black boys who’d fallen

through the cracks in favelas, the names

for Brazil’s barely-regulated poor neigh-

borhoods, which range from shanty towns

to long-established working class com-

munities.

Often too dangerous for police to en-

ter except in military-style operations,

favelas are places where children and

teens are thrust into the frontline between

ruthless drug traffickers and the heavy-

handed law enforcement.

Lining up before the judge were

youngsters accused of everything from

possessing marijuana to mugging in the

rich tourist zones and armed car theft.

Eight adolescents were accused in the

murders of two other kids in a detention

center, hanging them with bed sheets.

Among the public was the grand-

mother of one of the accused, a woman

in her eighties who appeared confused by

the proceedings and then almost fainted

as she left.

Crime’s foot soldiers

Street crime has been on the increase

in Brazil’s second largest city since the

end of the 2016 Olympic Games and the

perpetrators are often disturbingly young.

Favela kids grow up surrounded by

drugs and firearms, meaning an early

death for some and trouble with the law

for many others. Official figures from

2012 recorded that 1.9 of every 1,000

adolescents in Rio had been detained at

some point.

Sixty percent of young detainees

are black, 66 percent are very poor, and

more than half do not go to school and

come from broken families, according to

a study by the Instituto de Investigacion

Economica Aplicada (IPEA).

Of those detained in 2017, 41 percent

were accused of drug dealing, 37 percent

of robbery and mugging, 19 percent of

causing bodily harm, and just under four

percent of murder, said Degase, the cor-

rectional department for minors.

Many have fallen prey to the drug

traffickers’ promise of quick money.

Dealers like to use children because even

if they are convicted, the maximum pris-

on sentence applied to 12-18 year olds is

three years.

One of those locked up, asking not

to be identified, said he had left home at

14 and begun to “shoot” for the dreaded

Comando Vermelho, or Red Command,

which is Rio’s biggest drug gang.

Now just turned 18, he was at the ju-

venile court on charges of having stolen

a car in the violent Rio suburb of Duque

de Caxias.

“We have few opportunities. We are

from the favela and people treat us like

animals,” said the young man.

Rehabilitation?

The head judge, Vanessa Cavalieri,

said that poor youths have been let down

by government policies. Still, they have a

choice of path, she said, and her job is to

make them realize that.

“I think early intervention by law en-

forcement is much more effective. Once

they’re older it’s a lot harder to turn them

back,” she said.

“When a youth is detained he loses

the illusion that crime is good for bring-

ing adrenalin or money and that he can

do what he wants and get away with it.

Many have got used to having no limits

and here we show them that choices have

consequences,” she said.

However, about half of the kids

brought before her are reoffenders. And

when they pass through the often over-

crowded, unhealthy detention centers

they often have nobody to shield them

from a return to their old life.

There are initiatives that seek to

break the cycle, like “Young Apprentice,”

which offers businesses tax breaks for

hiring adolescents.

However, there is considerable reluc-

tance to hire young offenders. There are

300 adolescents ready to enter the pro-

gram but the justice department and its

subcontractors currently only hire 20.

One participant, 16-year-old Emilio,

who was arrested for robbery, said the

opportunity would make him “a new

person.” Some, he said, turn down such

a chance, “discrediting all of us.”

– AFP

some surface work would continue.

A small number of miners were later

given short-term contracts, and others

have since waited outside the mine hop-

ing to also get piecemeal work.

The mining sector once provided per-

manent work for many thousands of mi-

grant workers.

Now, the industry has waned to the

point that “you can be retrenched (made

redundant) anytime,” mining analyst Ma-

mokgethi Molopyane told AFP.

On Tuesday, Gold Fields - one of

South Africa’s most venerable miners -

announced plans to slash 1,100 jobs, or

nearly a third of the full-time workforce,

at its loss-making South Deep unit.

‘A huge loss of jobs’

At their peak in the late 1980s, South

Africa’s mines employed 760,000 people,

contributed 21 percent to GDP, according

to government figures.

Due to mechanization and as deposits

become harder to access profitably, the

number has fallen drastically.

Just over 460,000 people worked

in the mines in 2017, about 112,200 of

which were gold miners.

Another 50,000 jobs were lost in the

first quarter of 2018 compared to 2017,

with the sector’s contribution to GDP

now below 10 percent.

Once powerful unions have also de-

clined.

Membership at South Africa’s Na-

tional Union of Mineworkers (NUM),

co-founded by now president Cyril Ra-

maphosa, has shrunk from about 340,000

in 1986 to 187,000.

Ramaphosa, who came to power in

February, faces the formidable challenge

of tackling record national unemploy-

ment levels of 27 percent, with youth un-

employment estimated at over 50 percent.

Mining has played a central role in

shaping South Africa’s history since dia-

monds were discovered in Kimberley in

1868 and the Witwatersrand gold rush of

1886 that led to the establishment of Jo-

hannesburg.

But now South Africa must look else-

where for desperately-needed employ-

ment.

“If we take a longer-term look at min-

ing, the fact of the matter is that it is go-

ing to lose a lot of jobs,” labor economist

Andrew Levy said, adding that mining

had shifted from being labor intensive to

capital intensive.

“There is going to be a huge loss of

jobs there which will never be replaced.”

All over by 2033?

Sipho Pityana, head of South African

mining giant AngloGold Ashanti, last

month admitted gold was “a sunset indus-

try”.

A third of South Africa’s gold mines

are unprofitable according to the Minerals

Council.

It estimates that the gold industry

will see a sharp decline in production

by 2019-20, with reserves exhausted as

soon as 2033.

The biggest problem is that mines

are having to delve ever deeper for gold,

placing them at a disadvantage against

open mines elsewhere in the world.

Some reach four kilometers below

the surface, requiring heavy investment

in machinery to get men to the seam and

haul out the ore.

“Our gold mines are the deepest in

the world, working places are further and

further away from infrastructure, costs

have spiraled,” Minerals Council spokes-

woman Charmane Russell said.

With gold losing its shine, short-term

labor agreements have left workers like

Gugu Malatse, 33, earning far less money

than when permanent employees.

“Underground we worked from 7:00

am until 12 midday and I earned 8 to 9,000

rand a month ($565 to $635) a month...

Now I get only up to 2,300 rand,” Malatse

told AFP.

“We are being cheated and con-

demned to poverty.”

Others like the eSwatini (Swaziland)

national, Vuyiswa Shlungunyana, 32, said

they had not only lost their income but

have also been evicted from the mines’

hostel.

For Ramaphosa, the master negotia-

tor, a new deal between mining compa-

nies, government and unions is a priority

to attract foreign investment and retain

what jobs can be saved.

“We want this mining charter to be

finalized so that we can reposition this

industry,” Ramaphosa said at the recent

NUM conference.

– AFP

The head judge, Vanessa Cavalieri, said that poor youths

have been let down by government policies. Still, they have a

choice of path, she said, and her job is to make them realize

that. “I think early intervention by law enforcement is much

more effective. Once they’re older it’s a lot harder to turn them

back,” she said.

The biggest problem is that

mines are having to delve ever

deeper for gold, placing them

at a disadvantage against

open mines elsewhere in

the world. Some reach four

kilometers below the surface,

requiring heavy investment in

machinery to get men to the

seam and haul out the ore.

Ramaphosa, who came to

power in February, faces

the formidable challenge

of tackling record national

unemployment levels of

27 percent, with youth

unemployment estimated at

over 50 percent.