Who killed Pinky Mosiane?

Pinky Mosiane's body was found lying in a pool of blood. She was alive when she was found, but she died soon thereafter. She had been hit in the back of the head by a blunt object. There was a used condom next to her body. Although there were thirteen miners working in the shaft at the time of her death and ample DNA evidence found at the scene of the crime, no suspects have been identified and no arrests have been made.

We are used to this kind of story. A young black woman is raped and murdered. Her family - which is poor - reports the case. They spend months chasing the police and insisting on justice. The case falls through the cracks, and her name becomes yet another line in the longest list of state's failure to bring perpetrators to book.

Except this is not that kind of story. This is not even one of the growing number of hate crimes against lesbians that have finally begun to make their way into the public consciousness.

Pinky's story is about the complicated and often collusive relationships between unions and mining houses, and about how women have been casualties of battles over profits and productivity.

As the drama over Zwelinzima Vavi and the allegations of his sexual misconduct unfolds, the spotlight is rightly on how unions treat women and address matters of gender-based violence. As Pinky's case reveals, many unions - especially those in the mining sector - remain deeply untransformed, male-dominated spaces.

The much-lauded Mining Charter set targets for increasing the number of women miners. The Charter prescribes that 13% of miners underground should be female. While the setting of this target is commendable, little has been done to change the culture of aggressive masculinity that characterises the mining sector as a whole, and mine shafts in particular. In other words, although women are now being sent underground in greater numbers, nothing has been done to make mines safe spaces in which they can work free from sexual harassment and violence.

Globally, 53% of women report having been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. In South Africa that figure is much higher: a 2003 report indicates that 77% of women who work have been harassed. No specific studies have been conducted on women in the mining sector but there can be little doubt that sexual abuse and violence in mines is pervasive. Well over 90% of those who work underground are male and they are often unaccompanied by their families. Migrant labour remains an entrenched part of our mining industry.

Miners from Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and other neighbouring countries, as well as from provinces like the Eastern Cape, continue to be accommodated in single-sex hostels. The culture of machismo, of risk-taking and hyper-masculinity, provides a dangerous backdrop to Pinky's story.

Little regard seems to have been given to how the Mining Charter targets on women's participation will be met without massive negative impacts on the women who are sent underground.

Women miners who have participated in the research by the Benchmarks Foundation (the only NGO that has consistently monitored and tracked this issue over time) report that they are routinely verbally and sexually abused and harassed by male colleagues. This abuse is compounded by the system of production bonuses that plagues the mining sector.

Production bonuses work on a fairly simple principle. When mineworkers (working in teams) achieve a mine's production target, they are awarded a bonus. As many people in the industry concede, production bonuses can dramatically increase the amount that employees earn. But they also provide a perverse incentive for miners to engage in risky practices. Those who take short-cuts on health and safety regulations, tend to move faster and get paid more. But seismicity becomes dangerous when miners work too fast. This has long been a concern of unions and is supposedly at the top of the agenda for many mining houses - especially those in the platinum sector.

In mines where women are part of underground teams, their male colleagues often resent their presence, suggesting that they are unable to mine as quickly. To meet team targets for production bonuses, a practice of bartering sex for bonuses and substitute labour has evolved. Essentially, female miners are coerced into stepping aside to enable their teams to meet the bonus targets. They receive a reduced share of the financial reward that goes to the team. Often, they are also forced to have sex with their colleagues in order to qualify to receive the bonus payments.

This is an openly accepted part of the 'informal' system that keeps many mines operating. In other words, in order to comply with the Mining Charter's gender equality targets, women miners have become part of an elaborate and degrading system that results in them being a highly unequal player in a complex informal economy.

One could argue that Pinky Mosiane was unlikely to have been murdered if the mine and the unions had put a stop to the deeply degrading sexual practices that have been developed between male and female miners in response to the pressure to produce more and therefore earn more.

It is unlikely that the police, the employer and the union officials who live and work in the Rustenburg mine where Pinky worked and was killed did not immediately understand what must have happened. Their inaction is in stark contrast to some of the statements that were issued in the immediate aftermath of the murder.

In the days following the murder, NUM Secretary General Frans Baleni was quoted as saying that he found it "disappointing that women workers… while being subjected to the evils of capitalism, face yet another challenge, that of being invaded and killed by co-workers who are supposed to be their protectors and comrades in arms."

The vehemence of his words stand in stark contrast to the inaction of the unions. Eighteen months later nothing seems to have been done to follow up on the case. The employer - in this case Anglo-American - has been silent too. This, in spite of the fact that mines are duty-bound to investigate all fatalities that take place underground. But perhaps this is subject to interpretation.

When this story first broke last year, Jabu Maphalala, a spokesperson for the Chamber of Mines, noted that "[s]afety in the mines is an issue, but the chamber [deals] with safety issues such as rock falls, dust and noise and [does] not deal with gender-specific safety issues."

This stunning lack of understanding raises many questions. A woman is found dead in an Anglo mine and the chamber of suggests that murder underground is a gender issue? Would the murder of a male miner be viewed as an issue that the Chamber cannot address because it is a criminal matter? It is unlikely.

Sadly, this response also sheds light on the problems that women in the mining sector face. No one is prepared to acknowledge that women's rights are workers' rights. No one is prepared to recognise that sexism underpins the gender division of labour underground. And no one is prepared to accept that the production bonus system is exploitative of male miners and impossibly abusive of female miners. As women like Pinky have entered the mines, their labour - both physical and sexual - has become an important part of the mining economy.

The lack of action in Pinky's case isn't about the usual incompetence. The inaction underscores the inescapable fact that if a black male miner's life is worthless in South Africa today, a black female miner's life is less than worthless.

Pinky Mosiane was a casualty of an exploitative system that remains in place today. The silence from those who should be championing her cause is troubling. At worst the relevant unions and/or Anglo Platinum may be wilfully suppressing the truth by blocking an investigation. At best their silence is a function of a structure and system that has long been an open secret; a system that rewards men for risking their lives, and coerces women into bartering their bodies for bonuses.

Neither option bodes well for women. Perhaps it is time the Human Rights and the Gender Commissions asked some questions. It is unlikely that there will be justice for Pinky or her family if there isn't a full and proper investigation.

This column appeared in The Daily Maverick.