New book scrutinises the South African mining industry’s labour regime

16th December 2011 By: Jessica Hannah

The future labour regime in the mining industry will be difficult to change, says South African author Dr Morley Nkosi.

Nkosi first studied the labour structure of South Africa’s gold mines in pursuit of his PhD in economics at the New School for Social Research, in the US, while in exile.

His extensive research was later lent further substantiation by his experience in South Africa as a board member of two major mining companies where he was responsible for overseeing safety, health and environment operations.

“From what I have seen in the history of the labour structure that I have studied, it is not only racially and hierarchically divided but also has a huge skills gap,” he adds.

Nkosi recently published his book, Mining Deep, which explores the racial and hierarchic divides in South Africa’s mining labour structure that bedevils the country to this day.

He notes that the past has, to a large extent, shaped the present labour regime, which is evident when looking at the many years over which this labour structure has evolved.

The book starts with colonisation in 1657; it runs through the significant industry of that period – the agriculture and pastoral farming industry of the Cape Colony.

It then deals with the first mining industry in this country – the copper mines in Namaqua-land, in the Northern Cape. The book delves into the diamond industry, the second mining industry that developed in South Africa, which was followed by the gold-mining industry.

“These particular industries were to a large extent instrumental in the development of South Africa’s labour processes and influenced the labour structures that evolved out of those industries,” Nkosi explains.

Further, throughout all these industries, the technological developments are evident, which also contributed to labour processes, and the differentiation and specialisation of tasks become evident as well.

The basic processes used hundreds of years ago have remained standard, and they have become benchmarks for other large industrial organisations to arrange their labour processes and their labour structures.

“We now see a labour structure that is highly sophisticated and extremely differentiated. This has resulted in the need for highly skilled and educated individuals to fill the positions and, although the country has many unemployed people, those unemployed people cannot fill specialised positions because they lack the required skills,” says Nkosi.

He suggests taking a step back in time and replicating what the Dutch Reformed Church did in 1927, when it addressed the issue of poor whites with the assistance of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The resulting Carnegie Commission under- took a five-year study to assess the underlying issues, such as the nature and extent of the poor white situation, social and ethical traits among poor whites and psychological traits that retard adjustment, besides other factors.

“Out of that, they were able to clearly under- stand what action needed to be taken to address the poverty situation. “The government of the day got to understand all the problems that poor whites were facing and, from there, were able to address them,” Nkosi explains.