Caught in platinum’s gleam

Each day Lindikhaya Seyonto takes a herd of about 30 cattle past the Impala No 1 shaft outside Rustenburg. They graze on the dry, winter grass in the patches of open land surrounding the shaft.

He watches over the cattle for a group of 22 miners who, like Seyonto, come from the Eastern Cape. The miners buy cattle from a local farmer and, once they raise enough money, they will send the animals home.

From Umtata, Seyonto came to Rustenburg to work on the mines in December 2006. Without an ID book, which is tied up in home affairs bureaucracy, he cannot work for the mine, he says.

The miners pay him R1 300 to take care of the cattle. Once they are gone, he will be out of work. He says if he can get work on the mines he, too, will purchase cattle and send them home to his father.

Seyonto is just one of many who followed the gleam of platinum to Rustenburg. The city sits on one of the richest platinum belts in the world and 11 platinum group metals mines operate in and around the area, including some of the biggest platinum producers, such as Anglo Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin.


Mining activities in the Rustenburg local municipal area contribute a whopping 77% to the region’s gross geographic product.

This has resulted in Rustenburg becoming the fastest-growing city in South Africa.

The official statistics indicate the town has about 400 000 residents, but the town’s mayor, Matthew Wolmarans, says the number is likely to be somewhere between 700 000 and a million.

Wolmarans — mayor since 2006 — has lived in or around the town for most of his 38 years.

He says that although the mines bring in a great deal of wealth for the region, the wealth is not evenly distributed.

“We love platinum. It has made us the capital of the world as far as that is concerned, but it also has negative implications — all of a sudden others think that people in Rustenburg are wealthy, which is not the case.

“It is very sporadic; we still have pockets; a lot of people who are unemployed, who live below the bread line,” says Wolmarans.

Per capita income a month is about R9 000, says Wolmarans. However, this figure is calculated without taking into account the hundreds of thousands of people living in the district informally, way off the authorities’ radar.

“In actual fact it’s not only because of mines. It’s because the name of Rustenburg has been exaggerated,” says Justice Modise. “People think when they come to Rustenburg they [will] get rich as quickly as possible. It’s not like that.”

Modise is a senior shift supervisor with Anglo Platinum and he has worked on the mines since November 1980. Modise lives in Silverkraans with his wife and three children. He was recruited by then Rustenburg Platinum Mines when he matriculated.

A travelling “bioscope” went to Silverkraans, advertising life on the mines to potential workers. With seven other young men from Silverkraans, Modise joined the mine and travelled by bus to Rustenburg. He stayed in the Bleskop Hostel or B Hostel, he says.

Modise left the hostel in 1997 and now lives in company accommodation in Rustenburg east. His house is close to the railway line that transports ore out of the town. Throughout the interview the train whistle echoed mournfully in the distance.

Modise’s sparsely furnished lounge is testament to local crime. His DVD player was stolen recently, the latest of a number of break-ins. He does not intend replacing it.

Modise says Rustenburg attracts the wealthy and the poorest of the poor. He believes it was in 1994, when the mines began allowing employees to live outside hostels, that Rustenburg really began to swell, particularly its townships and informal settlements.

A report compiled by the Bench Marks Foundation last year says the introduction of a “living-out allowance” from most mines in the area meant more people needed housing and demand increased.

“Even before the introduction of this scheme [the allowance], demand for housing in Rustenburg’s townships far exceeded supply, resulting in the rapid growth of informal settlements,” the report says.

“With tens of thousands of mineworkers coming into the equation as a result of the ‘living-out allowance’ the pressure on already inadequate infrastructure and housing must be immense,” the report says.

In 2006 Anglo Platinum alone supported about 29 000 employees on a home ownership or rental scheme, according to the report.

The report is scathing about a number of concerns that it argues go largely ignored, including housing, health, labour, waste management, energy, water management, clean air and geological issues.

The municipality acknowledges the strain on its resources, particularly housing.

“We identified the problem and said it is not only ours, it is also the problem of the mines, because their recruitment agencies lob people to us. They don’t get jobs and it becomes my problem as the municipality,” says Wolmarans.

Wolmarans says the municipality approached the mining houses to address the problems and began building an integrated community away from hostels and informal settlements. Its integrated human settlement project will see about 5 000 RDP houses erected in Seraleng, Boitekong and Paardekraal, built in conjunction with a number of the mining houses.

Beyers Naude Street, which runs through the town’s central business district and into its plush suburbs, overflows with estate agents’ offices.

Property in Rustenburg is booming. Nadine Roberts, principal estate agent at Seeff Property in Rustenburg, says that although prices remain steady, development in the past couple of years has dropped off.

“There is not enough space on the existing [service] network,” says Roberts. “Development is slower than it used to be because [developers are] waiting on services.

“In the past five years we have seen at least 80% growth, very close to double,” she says.

“You can understand why there is such pressure on services.”

Roberts says a peak demand period for property is between October and January when new employees are transferred into town.

But, she says, increasingly the transfers are for companies the businesses of which are associated to the mining industry rather than the mines themselves.

She says on average people pay between R500 000 to R600 000 for a 600m2 stand and about R1,5-million for a 108m2 home. In the less affluent areas like Thlabane houses can go for about R500 000, says Roberts.

Commercial property poses additional constraints for the industry, she says. “We don’t have enough commercial property. None is being built at the moment and owners of commercial property are renting, not selling.”

Nevertheless, business is good. Roberts says the Seeff branch achieves annual turnover of about R100-million a year and wants to double that in the next two years.

Roberts says “crime is no worse [in Rustenburg] than anywhere else” and that security is an issue for anyone in the property market.

The Bench Marks report says that with migration and the inevitable ballooning of informal settlements, there is an alarming increase in alcoholism, vigilantism, mob justice and sex trade [and the consequent spread of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and Aids], all of which undermine traditional authority.

Despite these problems, Rustenburg managed to escape the wave of xenophobic attacks that swept the country.

“Everything so far is fine,” says Wellington James, who washes cars at the mall. James, an asylum-seeker from Zimbabwe, says he has not experienced the xenophobia reported elsewhere and describes Rustenburg as “a cool place”.

“We have big shops, malls and accommodation [here],” he says.

James lives with his brother in Thlabane, north of Rustenburg, in a one-room house. He earns about R350 a week washing cars and supplements his income by doing piecework in restaurants inside the mall.

“So far we’ve faced no crime, it’s pretty peaceful,” he says. “Being a foreigner they just compare you unnecessarily with others.”

Wolmarans insists that crime is not as severe as purported.

The town established a public safety department, albeit as part of its Fifa 2010 World Cup preparations, to tackle crime. A network of 23 CCTV cameras was set up in the central business district. These operate from the town’s disaster management centre, which monitors the precinct.

Conversations with Rustenburg residents show that many still view the town as small, despite its swollen city limits.

Diane Fraser (62) remembers Rustenburg when it had no tar roads. She raised her three daughters there and all of them still live and work in the town. “I could never live in the city,” she says.

But given Rustenburg’s changing face, residents might have to get used to city life.

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