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A thousand ways to die

Last year the National Union of Mineworkers came to Learn and Teach. They asked us to help them.

They wanted Learn and Teach to write a book for them about accidents on the mines.

Someone at the university had spoken to miners who belonged to NUM. He asked the miners how they thought accidents happened. And he asked the miners how they thought accidents could be stopped. Then he wrote a long report about it.

NUM wanted this report to be written so that miners could understand it easily. They wanted to use the book to get miners to think and talk about accidents and safety.

Now, after many months of hard work, the book is finished. It is called ‘A Thousand Ways To Die’. That is what one old miner said about working in the mines.


The book starts with Comrade James Motlatsi, the president of NUM talking. Comrade Motlatsi talks about how many people die in the mines every year. Comrade Motlatsi says it is very important for workers to take safety into their own hands.


Then the workers say why they think accidents happen. Black miners complain that there are certain jobs that only white miners can do by law. But they say this does not happen. One miner said, “If the team leader knows the job, the white miner will not go there. He will only go when he knows the bosses will come.”

Black miners are unhappy about this. They do the work of the white miners but they do not have the training that the white miners have. Black miners say that this is dangerous.

A team leader said this: “We team leaders are doing our best for the safety of the workers down there in the mine. But we are doing our best without proper training. The white miners are the ones who are getting the training. But they are not there to help us with their training.”


Miners also are unhappy because they say they have to work now and complain later. If they refuse to work where they think it is dangerous, they get punished. They say that this is not fair.

Black miners say that white miners push them to work hard because of the bonuses which they get. They say that the bonuses are dangerous. “You cannot kill people for a fifty cent,” said one miner.


Miners also complain about the noise underground. Drillers work with machines that make a big noise. A driller said, “When I am drilling, the machine makes such a noise that I cannot hear the sound of the hanging wall when it is falling. I also can’t hear any warnings that there is danger.”


Miners say that the mines must give them better hats and boots to protect them. Better hats and boots will stop them from hurting themselves while they are underground. “When the rocks fall, the hat is the first thing to go. So the rock finds a bare head and the worker gets hurt,” a miner said.


NUM are very worried about safety in the mines. They have a bill of rights about safety on the mines. Their bill of rights says miners must have these rights:

  • the right to choose safety stewards and safety committees

  • the right to refuse to work when it is dangerous

  • the right to call inspectors and go with them on all inspections.

  • the right to good health and safety training

  • the right to know everything about health and safety on the mines

  • the right to protection from threats and punishment

  • the right to have a say in the running of the mines and all future plans

The NUM says if workers win these rights then there will be fewer lives lost on the mines.

If you are a miner and you want to read this book, speak to your shaft steward. He will know how you can get it.

If you are not a miner and you want to learn more about the miners and their struggle for safety on the mines, you can buy ‘A Thousand Ways To Die’ from Learn and Teach. Please send two rand and fifty cents to: Learn and Teach Publications P.O. Box 11074 JOHANNESBURG 2000


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