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May 28, 2017

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S. Africa mining strike wears on

MARIKANA, South Africa--Miner's wife Nomfanelo Jali hasn't been able to serve her family meat in a month and increasingly struggles to put anything on the table at all, as South Africa's long-running platinum strike takes its toll.

On Jan. 23 Jali's husband downed tools along with 80,000 other platinum miners, vowing not to return to the shafts until their minimum monthly wage was doubled to 12,500 rand, around US$1,186.

Ten weeks later, inside a tin shack in the shadow of the quieted Marikana mine, Jali doles out corn meal porridge to some of her seven kids.

Her husband is still on strike and the next meal depends on hand-outs from the government, friends or extended family.

"We haven't eaten meat in a month, my children are crying for meat," she said.

Until the day before, when Jali collected her monthly 600 rand (US$56) social grant for her youngest two children, they had "spent a week without food in the house."

A three hours drive and a world away in a glass-fronted Johannesburg office, talks between the miners' union and the mine owners seem to achieve little more than ever-higher levels of acrimony.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) trenchantly says it will not budge, despite members losing nearly five billion rand (US$470 million) in wages already.

The world top three platinum producers — Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin — insist the wage demands are unrealistic and would put mines out of business.

Meanwhile Jali and thousands of other families bear the brunt.

Fewer meals are eaten and the ones that are could not be called balanced.

In similar shack on the same dusty rock-strewn patch of Highveld, Granny Sophie, now in her seventies, cuts open a carton to lick the last drops of amasi — a calorie-packed sour milk drink.

Ghost Town

The longer the strike goes on the more is owed to landlords, schools, loan sharks and friends.

"At times I have sleepless nights," said Wendy Pretorius, a single mother of three, who lives off her father who works at Lonmin.

It is now just a cruel irony that Marikana's residents live meters above the world's largest reserves of platinum — a metal used in everything from catalytic converters to jewelry.

The community was already hit by the killing of 34 miners by police during a wildcat strike in August 2012.

Now business has plummeted to a quarter of what it was before the strike by some shopkeepers' estimates.

"If they don't go back to work very soon, Marikana is going to be a ghost town," warns a shop owner who asked not be named for fear of being targeted by the militant union members.

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