JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The giant Anglo American Corp. announced plans Tuesday to begin housing thousands of its black miners with their families near four of its gold mines--the first time in a century of South African mining that large numbers of black workers would be permitted to live with their wives and children.
Theo Pretorius, managing director of Anglo American's gold and uranium mines in Transvaal province, said the company expects that 24,000 miners will be housed with their families--a total of more than 150,000 people--near its mines at Carletonville, Orkney, Welkom and Odendaalsrus over the next three years.
The housing project, pushed by top Anglo American executives for many years, would constitute a major departure from the system of migrant labor long used not only by South African mines, which alone employ about 600,000 blacks, but by many factories and construction companies as well.
As migrant laborers, blacks from South Africa's rural areas and neighboring countries work for 11 to 13 months and then return home for four to six weeks to see their wives and children. Some black workers live apart from their families for 20, 30 and even 40 years in this way.
"This is the legacy of apartheid," said Bobby Godsell, Anglo American's industrial relations chief. "The idea is that 100 years of mining should not produce black (working class communities) and should not result in permanent black urbanization."
Godsell, calling the project the "first step on the long road allowing all in the black work force to choose where and how they want to live," described Anglo American's goal as "creating communities so that the families of our workers can live healthy, normal, secure lives."
"We are committed to the belief in a non-racial South Africa that allows the establishing of self-sustaining, self-governing communities," Godsell said. "We have until now always had an unnatural and unhealthy system where management not only dictated conditions at the work place but also in the community. What we want is for people to choose how they want to live and how they want to run their own communities."
However, company officials could not comment on how Anglo American's plan fit in with current housing laws, although they expressed confidence that they would be able to carry it out. Until now, the mining companies have been permitted under the law to provide family housing for only 3% of their black workers, usually senior employees; the rest had to be housed in barracks-like hostels.
There was no immediate reaction from the government, whose approval would normally be required for any such development projects.
Anglo American has already purchased the necessary land and contracted with developers to build the communities, either adjacent to the mines or next to existing black townships, according to Pretorius, and model homes have been built for miners to view.
Prices of the houses will start at $10,000, and mortgages will be provided at 5% interest under a company subsidy. With initial monthly payments for the cheapest house at the equivalent of $47 a month, virtually every miner will be able to afford a house if he wants, according to Pretorius.
But an Anglo American survey of 58,000 black miners showed that only about 40% want housing for their families and that the rest, many of them young and still unmarried, are apparently content with the migrant labor system under which they live in men-only hostels and return home once a year.
A serious obstacle to the project, according to Pretorius, is the South African government's continued refusal to permit miners from Lesotho, Mozambique and other neighboring countries to bring their families with them. About 41% of the 180,000 black workers on Anglo American's gold mines come from outside the country.
Several model villages have already been established--one of the largest houses 1,100 families at Anglo American's Western Deep Levels mine west of Johannesburg--in an effort by several of the mining companies to ease what is one of their foremost labor problems.
Pretorius said Anglo American is also planning to include small, bachelor houses.