In one of the world’s richest platinum fields, the children of the soil wonder why they are still so poor? They are on the march now as Susan Comrie and S’thembile Cele found on a recent visit
Residents couldn’t agree on whether the burnt-out tanker just off the R37 was a Class A hazardous waste truck or just a normal petrol tanker. Either way, it had a metre-wide hole punched in the front of it that would have killed the driver if he hadn’t fled shortly before the petrol bomb hit. This would be big news in most neighbourhoods, but residents of the Greater Tubatse Local Municipality in Limpopo have seen many trucks, buses and cars torched since May as violent protests and acts of sabotage flared up across the rich platinum region that includes Burgersfort, Ga-Mampuru and Steelpoort.
Last Friday, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema led a protest march of roughly 7 000 people to the front gates of Modikwa Platinum Mine to demand that its owners – Anglo American and Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Minerals – agree to a long list of demands. Included were that residents be given a 50% stake in the business, that mine workers be paid at least R12 500 a month, and that the mine help build houses, hospitals, clinics and proper toilets. On a stage separated from Modikwa’s gates by three police Nyalas and 20 officers, Malema promised bigger marches and protests because “the masses are losing their patience”.
“This is just a warning shot. If you do not listen to the warning shot, this mine will come to a complete stop because you do not listen to ordinary people.”
The area’s residents live on the doorstep of the Bushveld Complex, which has the largest known reserves of platinum group metals in the world – an estimated 80% of the world’s platinum and chromium.
So how can it be, residents wonder, that a teenager in this area still has only a one-in-four chance of finishing matric? Or that, despite the plethora of international mining companies on their doorstep, 75% of the people are still unemployed and the average household income is just R14 600? Shattered promises
“When the mining houses come here, they promise the communities a lot of things,” said community leader and local businessman Chicco Kgoete. “When the communities see mines are not adhering to that, they become disaffected and revolt. That’s when you start to see these wildcat strikes, riots … shooting, people go and vandalise mine property and throw petrol bombs.”
Kgoete (30) returned last year to live in his small home village of Ga-Kgwete, a few kilometres up the R37 where one finds two major platinum mines – Anglo American’s Twickenham and Impala Platinum’s Marula.
The man, who owns a fleet of bulk haulage trucks and does business with the mines, is not afraid to tell them off. His fiery language in emails to mine bosses – which contain phrases such as “pro-capital”, “imperialism” and “white supremacy” – belie a voice so quiet one has to crane forward to hear him.
He chairs the community engagement forum that liaises with Samancor, a company with vast chrome mines in the region, and which is planning to open a new chrome mine on a 720-hectare piece of the community’s land next year. In 2013, Samancor appointed a professional valuer to decide on fair compensation for the land. The report recommended that since the land “could basically only be used for cattle-grazing purposes” and was “raw, unimproved farmland”, a fair payout would be R264 138 a year. That’s R22 011 a month, split between three communities. Ga-Kgwete alone has 11 608 residents, meaning that if the compensation were divided equally, each resident would probably get less than R1 a month.
“That was the first thing I questioned Samancor about,” said Kgoete. “Why bring your valuer to my land? They are comparing this to game farms, where there is no potential for mining. So on this piece of land, it’s dry, there’s nothing there, but underneath, there’s chrome and, with chrome, comes platinum.”
Although the leaders of the previous forum agreed to Samancor’s proposal, Kgoete is demanding a renegotiation. Samancor spokesperson Sunel Pretorius said the company appointed the valuer in conjunction with the department of rural development and they would continue “engaging with the community through the appropriate structures”.
Residents want the mines to recognise the principle of bana ba mobu – the children of the soil – which would give local people preference for jobs and bursaries.
At the EFF march, sisters Mohladi (19) and Mpho Maburu (22) from the area said they both wanted to study, but the mines favoured employees over locals.
“They are giving bursaries to the children of mine employees while we sit at home,” said Mohladi. “I finished matric last year and I want to study medicine.”
Pointing to her sister, she said: “She wants to be an artisan at the mines. She was studying electrical engineering in Middelburg, but had to give up her studies for financial reasons.”
Local contractor David Lesufi said the problem was “that the people around the mines are not working; they don’t have water; the poverty is still an issue”.
“I’m shocked – today is Friday and these people are not working. If they [had jobs] they wouldn’t be here.”
In July, after weeks of violent protests, several mines conceded to demands by residents around Ga-Mampuru and agreed to employ 500 locals within three months. This month, protests erupted again after residents accused the mines of not adhering to that agreement.
Marchers City Press spoke to were unhappy that the mines paid vast royalties to National Treasury, yet only a small portion of that came back to them.
“They built a smelter in Polokwane and named it Polokwane Smelter, but there are no mines there,” said local EFF branch commander Colin Phalane, referring to the Anglo Platinum smelter built in 2003.
“They were supposed to locate that f***ing smelter here so that people can work.”
Modikwa co-owner Motsepe, who has an estimated net worth of $2.2 billion (R29.2 billion), is easy for Malema to single out – and he did, saying: “All top positions are given to white people in his mining companies over qualified black people. We’re saying to Motsepe, don’t be scared of white people – you’ve got our support. If they don’t listen to you, come back and tell us they are disrespecting you – we will wait at the gates and chase them away so we can co-own these mines with you as a black brother.”
Yet, as mines in this area go, Modikwa is one of the more progressive. Seven local communities already own an 8.5% stake in it, and 60% of its workforce comes from Greater Tubatse and Sekhukhune.
Modikwa added it had spent R119 million on social and labour plans over the past five years, and R168 million buying from local businesses over the past year. 2016 elections
The Greater Tubatse Local Municipality could be a rich prize, but it is characterised by violent protests, and allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Census 2011 figures revealed only 43.8% of residents had access to water and 7.5% had proper toilets.
Early this month, a delegation from the National Council of Provinces warned the ANC council it “does not have a good story to tell”.
“When the mines came here, people were expecting a lot of things,” said municipal spokesperson Thabiso Mokoena. “The mines – even though they are helping a lot – we are saying they have to do more.”
But the question is: how much are the mines willing to give before they invest elsewhere?
“Those British people, those American people, are threatening us, telling us: ‘We are going to close down the mines,’ thinking no one will come and mine those mines,” said Phalane. “There are so many investors in this world who are willing to take our mandate here, people who are willing to give us 50% and take 50% ... Someone else will come.”
Kgoete, who accuses the EFF of “foiling” the negotiations process, disagreed: “Why will they want to come and invest here, knowing that six months after they pumped in their money, the community will vandalise their investments? We all want something out of this … If people aren’t investing in this area, we won’t have a Motsepe or Cyril Ramaphosa from this region.”
Kgoete, who also heads the delegation of the northern cluster mining communities as part of a process now under way between residents, local and national government, and the mining companies, believes negotiations with the mining companies are his neighbours’ best shot at a better life.
“If there is enough awareness around the negotiation process, I believe people will be calm. But if not, I do not know what will happen,” he said.
RED TIDE EFF leader Julius Malema led a 7 000-strong, highly charged crowd to Modikwa Platinum Mine, partly owned by mining mogul Patrice Motsepe, to demand that mining companies working the world’s most extensive deposits of platinum group minerals do far more for local communities around the mines
INTERLOCUTOR Chicco Kgoete at his home in Tubatse. He believes mining companies must pay greater compensation for mining land
FIERY FATE A tanker that was burnt during recent violent protests outside Tubatse