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By Wendell Roelf
CAPE TOWN Feb 13 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
"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
"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.
As well as provisions for better housing and worker
conditions, South Africa's mining charter - Pretoria's blueprint
for overhauling the industry - says mining companies have to
have 26 percent black ownership by the end of the year.
Despite some reforms in the 20 years since apartheid, many
miners remain part of a century-old migrant labour system that
sees them living in hostels at the mines far away from their
Thousands of others, especially in the platinum sector, live
in shanty towns close to the mines with little electricity or
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.
Companies, including the world's top platinum producer,
Anglo American Platinum, have plans to build 20,000
homes within a decade and have already started converting
single-sex hostels into family units.
Zuma, whose popularity has dipped in polls ahead of general
elections on May 7, also touched on a recent wave of violent
protests by residents of black townships unhappy with their
In the last three months, South Africa has seen around 30
"service delivery" protests a day, but Zuma put a positive spin
on the unrest, saying it was a sign of government success
creating higher expectations among communities.
"When 95 percent of households have access to water, the 5
percent who still need to be provided for feel they cannot wait
a moment longer," Zuma said. "Success is also the breeding
ground of rising expectations."
Zuma's African National Congress, which came to power in
South Africa's first democratic vote in 1994, is expected to
extend its electoral dominance in May's ballot despite growing
concerns over inefficiency and corruption.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Ed Cropley)