Locals up in arms over big new mine

Trouble is brewing in Mokopane, Limpopo, where a community is fighting the establishment of what is expected to be the world's biggest platinum mine.

Community members in several villages accuse Canadian mining group Ivanhoe Mines of attempting to shove them aside to make way for its Platreef mine.

Ivanplats, an Ivanhoe subsidiary, is prospecting around the villages of Kgobudi, Magongoa, Mzombana and Tshamahansi, where it has discovered a massive reef with inclusions of platinum, palladium, gold, rhodium, nickel and copper.

The company, which plans to establish a highly mechanised underground mine, has applied for a mining licence.

The mine is the second that mining companies intend to open to exploit the 30km-long reef. The first is Anglo Platinum's Mogalakwena.

But the community is angry.

"They will fight," said Sylvester Masenya, a Mzombana resident. "They are angry but they can't do anything."

Eliphas Molwatsi, chairman of the Mokopane Interested and Affected Community organisation, claimed community members had been assaulted, bribed and intimidated into signing documents stating that they agreed to the establishment of the mine.

Pensioners, he said, had been told they would lose their grants if they did not sign.

The mine is expected to start operating in 2018 but residents do no t know whether they will be compensated if they are relocated .

"The people are not against the mine," Molwatsi said. "They just want to know what is going to happen. They understand that there's development but they must be assured of their livelihoods."

Anjuli Maistry, of Lawyers for Human Rights, said the organisation had been unable to get a copy of Platreef's social and labour plan.

"It creates a lot of worry and anxiety," said Maistry.

Jeremy Michaels, a spokesman for the mining company, denied the allegations.

"Platreef intends to comply fully, both in letter and in spirit, with all relevant legislation," he said.

He said the mine had hosted 51 public meetings and had signed a memorandum of understanding with the community organisation on a structure for engaging with the company.

"[The community organisation] has consistently shown that it is unwilling to constructively engage on the issues at hand, opting instead to stage marches and make unreasonable demands while ignoring genuine attempts by the company to find common cause in the interests of the people [its] leaders claim to represent," said Michaels.

May Hermanus, executive director of the Natural Resources and Environment Research Unit at the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, said the intensity of mining operations would have a huge effect on the community.

"There is no easy answer to this. You have to proceed with an enormous amount of caution," she said. "You need more transparency."

Michaels said the mine would create about 10000 jobs, directly and indirectly, and generate billions of rands in foreign direct investment. It would contribute to positive change "in the socio-economic landscape".

Molwatsi said, however, that residents were told that only 25% of locals would find jobs on the mine.

"We don't have the right skills, they say," he said.

Hermanus said that, because of their lack of skills, the community was sidelined.

"It opens up the questions of where the incoming workers are going to live and how the local community is going to benefit from it, and how it is going to affect their lives, because it is going to affect their lives," Hermanus said.