Not worth a ton of chrome Lu­cas Led­waba

Min­ing com­pa­nies care more about the min­er­als they ex­tract from the land than the lives of the vil­lagers liv­ing there, writes

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When the cof­fin car­ry­ing Ti­nus Man­thata’s body was low­ered into the grave, mourn­ers broke into a melan­cholic ren­di­tion of Sen­zeni na? Their voices res­onat­ing through Ga-Mampa, a ru­ral vil­lage in Lim­popo’s Sekhukhune Dis­trict Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, spoke of the deep sor­row and anger left by the un­nec­es­sary death of this young man.

It was a scene rem­i­nis­cent of the days when Africans in the town­ships and vil­lages of­ten gath­ered around graves to send off vic­tims of bul­lets of state se­cu­rity forces.

Even the cir­cum­stances around Man­thata’s killing, al­legedly from a po­lice of­fi­cer’s bul­let that pierced through his back and sent him rolling in the dust of his land of birth, smack of the cal­lous cru­elty from the bad old days.

Man­thata was 32 years old. Like many youths in his vil­lage, he was unem­ployed, an­gry and frus­trated. He was also deeply con­cerned about the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing state of the en­vi­ron­ment caused by min­ing in his home vil­lage sit­u­ated some 50km from Burg­ers­fort.

On a chilly Wed­nes­day morn­ing a fort­night ago, he joined scores of other res­i­dents from the Ga-Phasha and Ga-Mampa com­mu­ni­ties to gather near the Se­fateng Chrome Mine.

The vil­lages fall un­der the largely ru­ral, un­der­de­vel­oped Sekhukhune Dis­trict Mu­nic­i­pal­ity with a pop­u­la­tion of 1 076 840 ac­cord­ing to the 2011 Sta­tis­tics SA cen­sus. The area is home to a thriv­ing chrome and plat­inum min­ing in­dus­try.

Al­though the min­ing boom, which gained mo­men­tum in the early 2000s, was ex­pected to turn the for­tunes of the cit­i­zens of this area, which was once among the poor­est in the coun­try, around, it has brought with it myr­iad chal­lenges which are brew­ing deep-seated anger and re­sent­ment against min­ing and those as­so­ci­ated with it.

Res­i­dents are frus­trated at the vi­o­la­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, which is lead­ing to pol­lu­tion of wa­ter sources, which in turn leads to death of live­stock, loss of graz­ing and plough­ing land, and de­struc­tion of houses through blast­ing ac­tiv­ity.

Al­though min­ing com­pa­nies of­ten dan­gle the carrot of job cre­ation when ap­ply­ing for min­ing per­mits in com­mu­ni­ties such as Ga-Mampa, such prom­ises have so far turned out to be pie in the sky.

Un­em­ploy­ment, es­pe­cially among the youth, re­mains high. Frus­trated with see­ing the min­eral wealth in their own back­yard be­ing mined and trans­ported to far-away lands while they re­main poor, many have now taken to min­ing with­out per­mits.

Their frus­tra­tion is fu­elled fur­ther by the ar­ro­gant in­dif­fer­ence of min­ing houses that show scant re­gard for the com­mu­ni­ties made up largely of unem­ployed youth and the el­derly.

Al­though Deputy Min­is­ter of Min­eral Re­sources God­frey Oliphant re­cently told a meet­ing of in­for­mal min­ers that he would force min­ing com­pa­nies in Lim­popo to dis­close progress on im­ple­men­ta­tion of their so­cial labour plans, his de­part­ment has re­mained an in­dif­fer­ent spec­ta­tor that only sighs in the face of mount­ing anger in com­mu­ni­ties af­fected by min­ing.

Fed up and frus­trated with this lack of ac­tion, Man­thata joined his fel­low res­i­dents to en­gage peace­fully with the man­age­ment of Se­fateng Chrome. Ac­cord­ing to eye wit­nesses, none of the res­i­dents was armed. Their gath­er­ing was meant to be peace­ful. There was not to be blockad­ing of roads or burning of bar­ri­cades, as has hap­pened dur­ing pub­lic protests in re­cent times.

In spite of this, armed se­cu­rity guards and po­lice of­fi­cers ar­rived on the scene and, with­out warn­ing or try­ing to en­gage with the gath­ered vil­lagers, among them pen­sion­ers and women, sim­ply opened fire with rub­ber bul­lets.

As the fright­ened vil­lagers fled into the bushes away from the mine premises, a policeman was seen fir­ing with his pis­tol to­wards the crowd. Man­thata fell and never rose again, another of South Africa’s black chil­dren’s lives de­stroyed by the min­ing curse, another death re­sult­ing from the toxic col­lu­sion be­tween state and cap­i­tal, just like in Marikana five years ago.

A young man is dead. His poor el­derly mother, Lek­gale Man­thata, who survives on a state old-age grant, strug­gled to raise money to bury him. She had hoped he would find work and help sup­port her in her old age. He had wanted to start a fam­ily but, with no in­come, he would never have been able to take care of them. His cir­cum­stances rep­re­sent the lot of many of the area’s youth.

The anger in the com­mu­ni­ties is ris­ing and may reach boil­ing point if the de­part­ment of min­eral re­sources doesn’t rein in min­ing com­pa­nies for fail­ing to im­ple­ment their so­cial labour plans and ad­here strictly to en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions.

Th­ese com­pa­nies have spared no ef­fort to ex­ploit the min­eral wealth in Sekhukhune. Whole vil­lages have been re­lo­cated to soul­less town­ship de­vel­op­ments in ex­change for as lit­tle as

R20 000. The dead have been ex­humed, friend­ships tran­scend­ing gen­er­a­tions have been bro­ken, and wa­ter sources and graz­ing land pol­luted.

Those who re­main close to the mines are sub­jected to a tor­tur­ous life char­ac­terised by all forms of pol­lu­tion, un­cer­tainty and ha­rass­ment. Those re­lo­cated to town­ships face an un­cer­tain fu­ture with no work and no land to live off.

The gov­ern­ing party’s Freedom Char­ter dec­la­ra­tion that the coun­try’s min­eral wealth shall be re­stored to the peo­ple re­mains just that – a dec­la­ra­tion on a piece of pa­per with no real prac­ti­cal mean­ing to the peo­ple on the ground.

A young man has died. His fel­low res­i­dents ask in the song at his grave: What have we done that we get shot and killed like this? Just like in the dark old days, they ask if per­haps they are be­ing dealt this blow sim­ply be­cause of their black­ness.

Even as they sang while the priest de­liv­ered the last rites at Man­thata’s grave, the roar and crack­ling of heavy ma­chin­ery from the Se­fateng Chrome Mine about 1.5km away could be heard in the dis­tance. Not even the tragic death of a young man could bring pro­duc­tion to a halt for just a few hours.

Per­haps in the eyes of the mine bosses, he was just a poor, ru­ral black youth, another cheap life not worth a ton of chrome. Sen­zeni na?

Led­waba is a free­lance jour­nal­ist and the au­thor of Broke & Bro­ken – The Shame­ful Le­gacy of Gold Min­ing in South Africa

PHO­TOS: LU­CAS LED­WABA / MUKURUKURU ME­DIA

SOM­BRE Mourn­ers pay their re­spects at the grave of Ti­nus Man­thata

LAMENT In full voice, mourn­ers march to­wards the Ga-Mampa ceme­tery to bury one of their own, Ti­nus Man­thata, who was shot and killed while flee­ing from se­cu­rity guards and po­lice of­fi­cers who broke up a peace­ful gath­er­ing by res­i­dents who were com­plain­ing about the dan­gers brought to their vil­lage by min­ing

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