Villagers take on platinum giant

People who were relocated from the village of Ga-Pila in Mokopane, formerly Potgietersrus, are accusing mining giant Anglo Platinum (Amplats) of a litany of broken promises.

Amplats asked the villagers to make way for a mining dump. They were shifted to the nearby Sterkwater.

Now they say Amplats short-changed them on the relocation fee and failed to provide them with services they promised — including clean water, tarred roads, streetlamps and shares in the company.

“[Amplats] dumped us here and has completely forgotten about us,” says Josephine Pheta, a disgruntled villager.

It all started in 2006 when most of the villagers were charmed by Amplats into moving to Sterkwater for a sum of R100000 each, as well as a 21% community stake in the dump, tarred roads and a host of other things they believed would improve their life. While most families took up the offer, 28 others elected to stay in Ga-Pila.

Now the ones who moved claim they were paid only R5000 each and forced into an area where they found brackish and undrinkable water, dusty roads, a far smaller living area and a tougher way of life.

“We were confused. All of sudden there was word that we are moving immediately, so logistics trucks accompanied by security and police [arrived],” said Daniel Mphela, an elder in the community.

Disgruntled residents say that when they arrived in the new houses — only 110m² each, rather than the 150m² promised — they also found erratic water supplies which make using the toilet inside the house unworkable.

“You might go to the tap and find it dry. I miss Ga-Pila because I had access to water all the time,” said Ms Pheta.

The man whom the villagers blame is Ben Magara, the former director of Amplats who is now the CEO of Lonmin, the mining company that has operations in Marikana.

When contacted by Business Times, Mr Magara refused to comment.

Amplats furiously denied this week that it had done anything wrong. Spokeswo man Mpumi Sithole said the miner had contracted Group Five to build the houses during the relocation process seven years ago.

Ms Sithole said qualified engineers declared the houses ready for occupation. The water supply, she said, fell under the control of the local municipality — not Amplats.

However, Ms Sithole said Amplats would try to engage with the municipality to help the community.

“Amplats made provision of R25m for community development initiatives, which is in a trust account. Following engagements, the community agreed to form a section 21 company to ensure representation of all affected communities and to also ensure transparency and full accountability.

“The section 21 company was later discontinued following further engagements with all stakeholders,” Ms Sithole said.

She said that Amplats ensured there was sufficient space for back-yard farming as well as extra land for farming — land where local economic development farming projects were taking place.

The 28 families who stayed at Ga-Pila and refused to relocate told Business Times that those who chose to move in 2006 did so because of greed at the money offered.

“There was consultation by the mine. It is just that people were thinking they were going to Canaan, [and would be] R100000 richer,” says Ga-Pila villager Rose Dlabeka.

She and two other women, Lizbeth Mogale and Rose Tlhobetse, fought the relocation attempts — and remained on the land.

“We can’t abandon our land of birth just to make way for the mine. We have approached almost every lawyer and have been to every legal structure to seek help,” said Ms Dlabeka.

Ms Dlabeka said the women had taken it upon themselves to spearhead the fight because their men would immediately be arrested if they took a stand.

“We were born here and we had gardens that we used to feed ourselves, but now we can’t because some rich people want to mine. You can see where the mine dump used to be our land, where we fetched wood and planted vegetables and edibles.

“Now we can get arrested for going there,” said Ms Tlhobetse.

The women in the village who are fighting relocation claim they are running short of funds to fight on.

“Our monies have finished because of legal fees. All the legal brains that we have approached in Limpopo dumped us along the way once they made contact with the mine.

“At some point, we used to have a voice so loud that some European countries like Denmark boycotted platinum. South Africans have rights. We don’t have because they have been stampeded by Amplats.”

While the women are fighting Amplats, there is a similar battle on the northern edge of the mine.

Up there, in Mohlohlo village, Paul Thobane is a lone voice as the 40 families in his village have already relocated.

While the mine operates less than 100m from his door, Mr Thobane survives through selling firewood to the village.

Mr Thobane remains adamant he is not moving.

“How can you move into a place where, besides the water scarcity, has water that has been polluted?

“How can we sustain ourselves in such an environment? Everybody in the world is gunning for mining. Why are we being pushed into agriculture? Why are we not being given share ownership in the mine at least?” Ms Sithole said that the community should be grateful for Amplats’ presence.

She said the community had benefited from a landmark broad-based empowerment deal in 2011, involving the transfer of R3.5bn worth of equity to communities.

She said this deal made the community the third-largest single shareholder bloc in Amplats, with an effective holding of 2.33%.

“These shares are effectively funded by [Amplats], through a notional loan, and held by the Lefa La Rona Trust on behalf of the communities, who have already received dividends,” Ms Sithole said.

• This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times