Fion de Vletter

Southern African Migration Project

Migration Policy Series No. 8

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In 1995, the South African Government offered an "amnesty" of permanent residence to all foreign mineworkers who had provided at least 10 years of service. The architects of the amnesty assumed that the miners would opt out of the migrant labour system, abandon their home countries and move to a country which offered higher living standards than their own, some of which ranked amongst the poorest in the world. The governments of Lesotho and Mozambique assumed the same thing.

However, less than 10,000 Mozambican miners applied for the amnesty. This was less than 40% of those who were eligible. Subsequently, there have been reports that miners have been "turning in" their new status. This study, in tandem with another Lesotho, interviewed Mozambican miners and miners' wives in an attempt to explain their decidedly lukewarm reactions to the amnesty offer.

In addition, the study was able to collect long-overdue socio-economic data on the miners and their families. These show dramatic changes over the past decade, especially in relation to age and length of service, reflecting the more career-focussed orientation of mine work and the major changes taking place within the migrant labour system, once seen as the backbone of apartheid and targeted for imminent abolition.

From the inception of migrant labour to the mines until the 1970s, Mozambique was the main supplier of labour to the South African gold mines. Some experts predicted that Mozambican migrants would be phased out altogether by the mines. Others argued that they would continue to be employed into the foreseeable future. The latter proved correct. Since the mid-1980s, despite cutbacks from all other sources, Mozambique has gradually edged upwards with a trend line suggesting that Mozambique may soon surpass Lesotho as the largest supplier of labour to the mines.

The amnesty provisions, by offering permanent residence to long-serving miners, were an obvious policy measure to hasten the road to "normalization" of the mine labour system, allowing miners to opt out of the system. The ironic reality is that, contrary to expectations, few migrant miners were seriously interested in this offer. And those that did accept the offer did so only for strategic reasons. They too have no intention of uprooting from Mozambique to South Africa permanently.

This study of 455 miners and 160 wives was undertaken in August/September 1996. The miners interviewed were all eligible for the amnesty and therefore represent an important sub-set of migrants but are not themselves representative of all migrants. The subset has important distinguishing characteristics, including: that they are career migrants; are generally in their mid-forties; that they have invested substantial amounts into their rural bases; and are able to maintain regular contact with their families.

Almost all (94%) of the respondents were aware of the amnesty provisions and 87% felt that they were eligible. Only a small number said that they intended taking up the amnesty offer. Almost none intended acquiring South African citizenship.

Although difficult to measure, it is likely that the lack of miners' awareness of the diversity of privileges accorded to those with permanent residence may have been a factor in the low level of applications. There was much confusion over what permanent residence meant in terms of gained and lost privileges. Despite much fanfare over the amnesty issue, the essence of its impact on many migrants may have been encapsulated in one miner's observation that "Amnesty allows you to get an ID card without having to pay anything." Those who applied for the amnesty did so for certain strategic reasons (such as access to a pension or alternative employment in South Africa), not because they wanted to settle permanently in South Africa (the basic assumption of the amnesty’s planners and promoters).

A large majority of Mozambicans could not bring themselves to mention any advantage of living in South Africa. The general consensus was best summed up by one miner: "I only go there to work." For those who did see advantages, it was the relative ease of obtaining work or doing business. The principal disadvantages were the inaccessibility of land and the anti-Mozambican prejudice and consequent difficulty of integrating into South African society.

In contrast to Basotho miners who felt that amnesty should not be restricted to years of service, almost all Mozambicans expressed a curious mixture of patronizing protectionism over their youth and a strong sense of nationalism: an attitude which essentially boiled down to one which did not trust the naive impressionism of their younger colleagues (probably seen as their sons) and a fear that they would abandon their ties to their homeland.

Compulsory deferred pay has aroused a great deal of debate in recent times. The NUM has called for its abolition. The Chamber of Mines has adopted a wait-and-see attitude. The earlier SAMP study in Lesotho found universal condemnation of the system by miners and widespread support amongst miners wives, providing policy makers with a very real dilemma. In Mozambique there were no divided opinions. The system was almost universally supported both by miners and wives. Miners see it as a form of forced savings and for the wives, deferred pay meant that they had a greater influence over how the money was used.

Interesting patterns emerged from the socio-economic profiles of the miners. Of those Mozambicans eligible for amnesty, the average age was almost 47 years which explains the reluctance to uproot and move to South Africa. Miners in general seem to be considerably older than a decade ago. The average age for all Mozambican miners is just under 40 years, similar to Lesotho. More half the Mozambicans are technically illiterate (less than 4 years schooling).

Household income is almost entirely sourced from miner's wages. Barely a tenth of the households sell agricultural produce, considerably less than the national average for rural households. This was partly because a large proportion of miners come from urban households - much more than is conventionally assumed. The average monthly wage was R1 205, with considerable variation. Households in Mozambique receive the bulk of these salaries, annually averaging R11 022.

The tendency to unionize is much weaker amongst Mozambican miners than Lesotho miners: more than half claimed not to be NUM members. Another distinguishing characteristic between the two sets of miners is the degree of contact with their families. Whereas the Basotho visit their homes on average once a month, few Mozambicans visit their families more than once annually. This is largely explained by distance and work-shift scheduling rather than desire.

The survey of miners' wives found that most were unaware of even the most elemental aspects of their husband's work.. However, the vast majority were supportive of them working on the mines, recognizing the material advantages in comparison to alternative Mozambican employment. Mining is very much an inter-generational phenomenon: more than two thirds stated that the fathers of their husbands had or still worked on the mines Three quarters supported the idea of their sons working on the mines.

Despite the poor awareness of their husbands' work, 91% were aware of the amnesty but very few (5%) thought that their husbands were eligible and a quarter did not know. A tenth said that their husbands had raised the possibility of moving to South Africa but only 4% felt that their husbands were likely to move there on a permanent basis. Only 12% said that they would move to South Africa if their husbands did choose to live there. The effects of their spouse’s absence on family life was poignantly described.

The Amnesty provisions were the result of the NUM pressurizing the South African Government to give foreign miners the same treatment as their South African counterparts. The proposal was based on the assumption that foreigners living in poor neighbouring states would prefer to live in South Africa and that the amnesty was their opening, via the good favour of the NUM, for taking up the opportunity.

The fact that Mozambican miners play an important role in the development of their country via the foreign exchange earnings of their deferred pay and through productive investment in rural Southern Mozambique, seems not to have been considered by the advocates of amnesty, nor were there consultations with the Mozambican Government over the possible ramifications.

In terms of policy recommendations, there are two general issues at stake. First, given that amnesty is a reality, we still need to ask what can be done, albeit at this late stage, to improve its impact. The second is to ask what the NUM, the mining industry and the South African government should consider to better meet the true concerns of foreign miners.

There are three general policy recommendations to make: