Bat­tle­ground Lim­popo

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

CityPress - - News -

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.

PHOTOS: MUNTU VI­LAKAZI

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

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