Saudi Gazette, Thursday, August 16, 2018
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Rio’s poorest teens caught between traffickers and the law
Twilight of South African gold mining fuels job crisis
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
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
“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
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
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
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-
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
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
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
“We have few opportunities. We are
from the favela and people treat us like
animals,” said the young man.
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
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.”
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-
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-
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-
But now South Africa must look else-
where for desperately-needed employ-
“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
“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-
A third of South Africa’s gold mines
are unprofitable according to the Minerals
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
“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’
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
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.