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Community blames 'arrogant' mine for unrest

Apr 15 2018 07:24
Lesetja Malope

A revolt is brewing among one of the communities at the richest end of the country’s platinum belt and fingers are being pointed at the “arrogant” mines for neglecting community concerns.

The Fetakgomo Tubatse Local Municipality, situated at the eastern border of Limpopo and Mpumalanga, has the biggest platinum reserves in the country. However, it is still part of the government’s list of 19 distressed mining towns that are receiving special attention from the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation.

Community leaders in Driekop, Limpopo, have accused management of the Modikwa mine, which is partly owned by billionaire Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Minerals (ARM), of being arrogant and letting the tension between locals and the mine build up.

The area made headlines when a bus transporting workers to their night shift at the mine was petrol bombed on Monday, April 2. Six workers were killed. Five people were arrested. One community leader said a storm had been brewing in the area for a while and the mine must shoulder some of the blame for looking the other way.

Speaking to City Press at the scene of the horrific attack in Driekop, about 20km northwest of Burgersfort, two local councillors said Modikwa had been keeping its distance from community grievances about the mine.

Councillors Joyce Riba and Timothy Magane, of wards 7 and 14, respectively, said that despite efforts to get mine officials to attend the community meetings, they were unwilling to come to the party.

“We have had many community meetings and people have lamented the issue of jobs,” Riba said.

“They say the mine does not employ them and they also want the mine to build a training centre so that they are skilled, but the mine does not want to come,” she said.

Three weeks before the attack on the bus, two trucks were set alight in the space of three days, in protests that blocked the R37 which, along with the R555, are the economic gateways to the town of Burgersfort.

Riba said she was the first local leader to be informed about the bus arson. She said Modikwa mine officials had been avoiding contact with locals.

“They refuse to come to the people. I was informed of the second burning of a truck while I was in a meeting at the municipality where their [Modikwa] officials walked out without a reason,” she said.

Riba said she was recently told that matters relating to the community were being handled at mayoral level.

Proof of this was that ARM corporate affairs executive Benny Boshielo was one of the first officials on site the following morning, after the mayor called him, Riba said.

Boshielo is a former ANC heavyweight in the province and is from the district.

Riba said the murders on the bus were an exception because in previous attacks, no lives were lost.

Both councillors said they were sidelined whenever prominent people came to the mine including during the recent visit by Motsepe and Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe.

“As affected councillors we just went without an invite,” Riba said.

The district has significant platinum mining reserves and yet remains one of the poorest – an economic irony that is evident as one drives through the mined mountains and the poverty-stricken villages.

Although the area has earned a reputation for protests that block the main road leading to the town, on the day City Press visited there were no protests. However, the talk of the village was that a teenage girl was found dead in a pit toilet.

ARM has a 41.5% stake in the mine, local residents 8.5% via two section 21 companies, Mampudima and Matimatjatji, and Anglo American Platinum has a 50% shareholding.

In written responses to questions, the mine said that of its 4 036 employees, almost 66% are from the district municipality.

It said of the 40 companies who are suppliers to the mine, 16 are local businesses from the host villages.

The mine acknowledged that its representatives did not attend meetings with local residents, but said it used alternative platforms.

“The communities elect the people who represent them in the section 21 companies. The mine engages with the local communities via these structures, including the Hwashi Difagate community trust, which owns the Onverwacht farm (where the majority of the mine’s infrastructure is located).

“Monthly meetings are held to discuss issues of mutual concern. In addition, the section 21 representatives participate in the mine’s committees, which include the safety and sustainable development committee and the executive committee, the highest decision-making body at the mine.

“By participating in these committees, the section 21 representatives are able to be the voice of their respective communities at the mine, and to give feedback to their communities on all issues affecting the mine.”

The company said the murders on the bus had affected the workers negatively and that they were getting counselling and support.

THE CRIMINAL CASE

Provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Motlalefa Mojapelo said the five people arrested were caught in Driekop and neighbouring villages. They were charged with malicious damage to property and six counts of murder and appeared in the Mecklenburg Magistrates’ Court on Thursday. Their bail applications were postponed to later this month.

They were named as Sipho Khumalo, Aubrey Tjie, Thabo Mokgala, Philimon Makwana and Kgaogelo Moime.

THE MUNICIPALITY

Municipality spokesperson Thabiso Mokoena said their only source of income was rates and that in the last financial year they had collected a mere R58 million.

Mokoena said the municipality had a budget of R619 million in the current financial year, which included a R81 million infrastructure grant. This was used mainly for roads and bridges.

The municipality had a staff complement of around 350 and over 45% of its estimated population of 483 000 was unemployed. There were 17 active mines in the area.

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