Supply Chains

The German auto industry’s darkest secrets

E-car revolution? A young Congo man carries cobalt, a vital component of rechargeable batteries, on his back. Source: picture alliance / AP

The young man shyly moves his T-shirt down over his belly, hiding the scars from the operation and the exit holes. His fellow South Africans call Mzoxolo Magidiwana, 24, “dead man walking” because he will never recover from the injuries he suffered when police opened fire on him and his fellow workers five years ago. Bullets tore into his stomach and his right arm no longer has any strength; nor can he walk properly anymore.

Mr. Magidiwana was one of the leaders of the 3,000 miners who went on strike on August 12, 2012 to protest poor working conditions and low pay at the Marikana platinum mine some 100 kilometers from Johannesburg in South Africa. The workers were being paid just €400 ($464) per month for back breaking work. Below ground, they had to contend with constant accidents and dust that made them ill. Above ground, they were breathing the toxic fumes coming out of the platinum smelter.

The brutal reaction of the local police, who acted in coordination with British mining company Lonmin, was later described as a massacre. They fired 400 rounds into the crowd, killing 37 workers and injuring scores more.

And, as Mr. Magidiwana says now, “German companies share responsibility for this.” He was referring to German automakers that, like companies from other countries, buy platinum from Marikana.

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