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Ethnic tensions brewing

Oct 22 2017 06:00
Lesetja Malope

A mine worker walks past the Marikana platinum mine, operated by Lonmin Plc, in Marikana, South Africa, on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Lonmin's warning that it may be forced out of business shows just how dire the situation has become for some of the world

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Tension is brewing between various ethnic groups in North West mine-hosting communities over jobs and other economic opportunities.

Government’s failure or unwillingness to change or intervene in migration trends seem to be at the centre of the strain.

These rising tensions come over five years after the Marikana shooting on August 16, 2012, which was the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since 1960.

That Thursday, 34 Lonmin miners were killed when police tried to disarm and disperse them during their strike for higher wages.

Ten people, including two police officers and two Lonmin security guards, were killed the previous week.

Joseph Magobe, chairperson of non-profit organisation Bua Mining Communities (BuaMC), told the Bojanala Mining Summit in Rustenburg earlier this week that they had noticed an influx of migrant workers from other provinces. This was taking away the few employment opportunities available for the Tswana locals on North West mines, he said.

BuaMC consists of members of 15 mine-hosting communities in the platinum-rich area. It was established shortly after the Marikana shooting.

He said Tsonga speakers from outside the province were outnumbering the Tswana locals in some communities and that these tended to be economically better developed.

Magobe told City Press that most of the people in the Rustenburg local municipality were Batswana and the Tsonga speakers were a close second. This situation was reversed in the neighbouring Madibeng local municipality.

“It’s quite amazing that in a population of a district municipality like Bojanala, where Batswana are the highest population, they are followed by Xitsonga-speaking people.

“In Wonderkop, you find Xhosas and you know that that area is Batswana.

Wonderkop is a land of Batswana.

“You find that there are those who get the jobs because they have experience in the mining industry. They can tolerate the conditions that the locals are not able to.

"That has also been an apartheid way of dealing with things. They get the jobs.”

He said mining companies’ preference for using migrant labour instead of locals happened during apartheid and was still continuing.

“It’s setting us as black people against each other.

"There are many things that government can do in order to cater for people who are coming from outside this province, to ensure they stay in their provinces so that everyone can benefit where they live, rather than pushing for things that will cause violence,” he said.

Magobe said there were already instances of informal settlement dwellers, most of them migrant workers, being used to violently gag locals from complaining about mine-related issues.

The two-day gathering was organised in conjunction with the Bench Marks Foundation.

Magobe said they had not bothered inviting officials from local municipalities as they had not proven helpful in dealing with mining-related issues. They also excluded tribal authorities from the inaugural summit.

“In meetings where we have had them, they are very quick to leave,” he said.

BuaMC would, however, consider inviting both these authorities to future summits.

The resolutions taken at the event were to help communities with their land restitution legal battles and to advocate that people demand reconstitution of royal families so that regents could hand over the thrones to their rightful or legitimate heirs.

To achieve this, BuaMC would partner with the Legal Resources Centre, Land Access Movement of SA and the Bench Marks Foundation.

The summit resolved to lobby against apartheid-era development accounts (also known as D-accounts) and the corporatisation of community assets. Development accounts were set up for communities’ commercial transactions before trusts were used.

Most communities use the development accounts parallel to trusts and companies.

“Most of the assets are in community trusts and there is no democratic accountability as these are mostly not audited with the help of lawyers and accountants. We don’t want these trusts. Other models must be used,” Magobe said.

North West provincial government spokesperson Brian Setswambung said murders had occurred in the Rustenburg area, but these were linked to union rivalry, not tribalism.

“The provincial government has not been informed of incidents of tribalism in the Rustenburg area.”

As part of efforts to restore peace in the area, it had set up the Marikana reconciliation, healing and renewal committee, on which various affected groups had representation.

BuaMC, Magobe said, was non-profit organisation consisting of members from 15 mine-hosting communities in the platinum rich area and was started shortly after the Marikana massacre five years ago.

Particularly mentioning Tsonga-speaking people, Magobe said in some communities in the area, the native Tswanas were in the minority and those communities tended to be better economically developed.

In an interview with City Press, Magobe said that despite the majority of the people in the Rustenburg being Batswana, the number of Tsonga speakers were a close second, while the positions were reversed in the neighbouring Madibeng.

Madibeng is about 70 kilometres by road to the east of Rustenburg.

“It’s quite amazing that in a population of a district were Batswana are the highest population and followed by Xitsonga-speaking people. In Wonderkop, you find Xhosas and you know that that area is Batswana area.

"Wonderkop is a land of Batswana,” he said adding that legislation has made provision for migrant labours.

“You find that there are those who get the jobs because they have experience in the mining industry, they can be able to tolerate the conditions that the locals are not able tolerate.

"That has also been an apartheid way of dealing with things. They get the jobs, you can see the population in Marikana,” he said.

He said the alleged preference of migrant labour over locals was used during the apartheid days and was retained in the democratic dispensation.

“It’s setting us as black people against each other.”

This has happened even during the 1990s where Xhosas would fight with Basotho and Batswana.

“There are many things that government can do in order to cater for people who are coming from outside this province to be able to remain in their provinces so that everyone can benefit where they live rather than pushing for things that will cause violence,” he said.

Magobe said there were already instances of informal settlement dwellers, most of whom are migrant workers, being used to violently gag natives from complaining about mine-related issues.

During the two-day gathering, which was organised in conjunction with the Bench Marks Foundation, Magobe said the organisation did not bother to invite local municipality authorities as they had not proven to be useful while invitations to tribal authorities were also considered a decision was also taken to exclude them for the inaugural summit.

“In meetings were we have had them, they are very quick to leave,” he said adding that in future summits, the authorities might be invited.

Among the resolutions taken after the two-day event were that the organisation alongside its partners which include Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Land Access Movement of South Africa Strategic (LAMASO), Bench Marks Foundation, would assist communities in their land restitution legal battles, that the member communities must advocate and demand reconstitution of royal families so that regents must hand over the throne to the rightful or legitimate heir of the throne.

The summit also resolved to lobby against development accounts (also known as D-Accounts) and corporatisation of community assets.

Development accounts are set up for all of the community’s commercial transactions before trusts were used.

These accounts are a legacy from apartheid.

Most communities use the development accounts in parallel to trusts and companies.

“Most of the assets are housed under community trusts and these is no democratic accountability as these entities are mostly not even properly audited with the help of lawyers and accountants.

"We don’t want these trusts and other models must be used,” Magobe said.

North West provincial government spokesperson Brian Setswambung said there has been incidents of murders that have happened in the Rustenburg area, which falls under Bojanala, that have been reported but they have been asscociated with union rivalry and not tribalism.

“The Provincial Government has not been informed of incidents of tribalism in the Rustenburg area. Instead incidents of union rivalry have been reported as contributing to the killings that occurred.

"The Provincial Government has as part of intervening set up the Marikana Reconciliation, Healing and Renewal Committee constituted by all stakeholders in the area.

"This constitutes part of government ‘s intervention to restore lasting peace and stability in the area,” he said

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