By Thuso Khumalo

RUSTENBURG Dustin Brown Womens Jersey , South Africa, May 29 (Xinhua) -- Close to 80,000 South African miners who have embarked on a four-month strike are now living on handouts as the strike is dragging on with no sign of an end.

The miners, belonging to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), have received no salaries since January 23 when they kicked off the strike, demanding a basic salary of 12, 500 rand (about 1,200 U.S. dollars) a month.

The Gift of Givers, an international disaster relief organization that has started distributing foodstuff and other necessities to the miners, describes the striking miners' situation as "desperate".

Vowing not to return to work till their demand is met, the miners now have to stand in long queues for several hours to get food parcels from charity organizations like the Gift of Givers.

No work and no pay. For the past four months the mineworkers have nothing to support themselves and their families The strike is now hitting them and their families hard.

As of Thursday, the mineworkers' earning loss stood at 8.9 billion rand (about 856 million dollars).

Most of the miners have to beg for food from friends and relatives. Those who had taken goods on credit are reporting huge debts while some have been evicted from their rented shacks or rooms.

Roberto Gwane, from Mozambique, took part in the strike in the platinum belt in Rustenburg, a volatile mining area in North West Province. Gwane told Xinhua that the strike has turned him into a full time beggar.

"Life is now extremely hard for me. Sometimes I only drink water and spend the day on an empty stomach. When I am too hungry I go and beg from friends.

"I have not received a salary since January. My house rent is now in four months arrears and I owe school fees for my children," he said.

Bongani Dlamini, a 32-year-old rock driller, said he has suffered so much that he is no longer interested in the strike. However, Dlamini said going back to work would put his life in danger.

"At times you want to go back to work, but it is dangerous. Other striking workers can kill you for selling out," Dlamini said.

Since the strike began, several miners have been killed and dozens injured for refusing to take part in the strike.

For those working for the Gift of Givers, the plight of the miners made them sad.

Emily Thomas, Gift of Givers Media Liaison Officer, told Xinhua that the humanitarian situation of the miners has reached alarming levels and called for more urgent and regular assistance.

"At the moment there is great hunger on the platinum belt. These miners have spent months without pay and they are now starving. The Gift of Givers is here to save them from this humanitarian crisis.

"We give them maize meal, tea, rice, pasta, bread, fresh vegetables, blankets, clothing and other essentials," said Thomas.

After receiving the food parcels, many were filled with excitement and joy as they hurried away to prepare a descent meal after going hungry for days.

Silvia Qophololo, a machine operator assistant at the Khomanani mine in Rustenburg, ran short of words to express her appreciation for the food parcels.

Qophololo said, "We are very excited about these food handouts. At least today we will eat and sleep peacefully."

But the strike looks far from over despite all the suffering it has brought to the miners. Many attempts to find a settlement have failed so far.

Siphamandla Makhanya, AMCU Branch Chairman at Khuseleka Mine, said the miners will not move an inch from their demands.

"The strike will continue until we are given the 1,200 U.S dollars (a month). We are prepared to negotiate with the mine owners but we will not accept anything less than 1,200 U.S dollars.

"They can pay us that money over four years as long as it will reach that amount, we will accept the offer. For us it is all about getting a basic salary of 1,200 U.S dollars not more not less," says Makhanya.

The mining companies have rejected the demand, saying it is beyond what they can afford.

Meanwhile, the miners say they are now pinning their hopes on the newly appointed Minister of Mineral Resources Ngoako Ramathlodi who is currently mediating intensive talks between the companies and the striking mineworkers.

An inter-governmental team has been set up to work with labor and business to find a solution, Ramatlhodi said on Wednesday.

The technical team will include officials from the departments of mineral resources, labor and national treasury, and will meet at an undisclosed location on Thursday, supported by representatives from the platinum companies, as well as AMCU.

"The mandate of the technical team is to broaden the approach and explore all possibilities for a resolution to the problem. They will interrogate all the information (including the figures) provided by both parties, and report back by the end of the day on what is possible," Ramatlhodi said.

The news brightened up the striking mineworkers, who are desperate for a quick resolution to the labor unrest which is blamed for the country's economic woes, characterized by a 0.6 percent decline in the seasonally adjusted real gross domestic product (GDP) for the first quarter of 2014, the first decline since 2009.

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