South Africa's Zuma tells mining firms to improve housing

CAPE TOWN Thu Feb 13, 2014 1:07pm EST

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CAPE TOWN Feb 13 (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma told mining companies on Thursday to improve workers' housing this year to meet a government deadline, saying Africa's largest economy could not afford more social unrest in the sector.

"We need a mining sector that works," Zuma said in his annual state of the nation address to parliament, noting mining's status as South Africa's leading earner of foreign exchange.

"Let me also remind mining companies that 2014 is the deadline for them to improve housing and living conditions of mineworkers and to achieve a number of targets," he added.

Despite some reforms in the 20 years since apartheid, many miners are part of a century-old migrant labour system that sees them living in hostels at the mines far away from their families.

Thousands of others, especially in the platinum sector, live in shanty towns close to the mines with little electricity or sanitation.

The poor living conditions are cited as a key reason for the discontent and violent strikes for higher wages that have plagued the sector for the last two years. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Ed Cropley)

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