Mines, govt urged to clean up

Two reports on the relationship between mines and communities in Limpopo have recommended changes in the way South African mines handle the communities around them.

Mines should go beyond the letter of the law when dealing with communities’ land rights and when mining operations require people to be relocated, the reports recommended. And communities should be better educated about their rights.

Written by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Limpopo premier’s office, the two reports were released last week at a time of escalating conflict between communities and mines in the province.

Earlier this year international human rights organisation ActionAid released a report loaded with accusations by communities living around Anglo Platinum’s mines in Mokopane and Burgersfort in Limpopo. It states the company forcibly removed the communities and cut off their basic services.

The report prompted the HRC to launch a six-month investigation that released its findings last week. In the same period the premier’s office investigated escalating conflict and land invasions involving communities living around mines.

The Anglo Platinum mine outside Mokopane has been a hotbed of conflict, with violent protests erupting around removals. In 2001 the company started moving residents of Ga-Pila and Mohlohlo to other villages, as their former residential area was deemed too dangerous.

When the Mail & Guardian visited the area earlier this year villagers complained that they had received a raw deal, having been moved to sub-standard settlements with little farmland and no grazing for cattle.

“I hate this place; my community hates this place,” said the induna of the Ga-Pila community, Isaac Pila (72).

Diehards who refused to move to the new settlement claimed that their electricity and water had been cut off by the mine. One of them, Rose Dlavela, vowed she would never leave her land.

ActionAid and the communities staged a protest outside the Mokopane mine last Saturday, saying that nothing had changed. “This report contains lessons for government, which is clearly failing in its duty to protect the interests of the poor and historically disenfranchised communities,” said Zanele Twala, ActionAid’s country director.

Although the human rights commission’s report was not as harsh as some anticipated, the premier’s report had led to a fallout in the province, with one of its officials apparently pulled off the investigation after the mine threatened the premier, Sello Moloto, with legal action.

Anglo Platinum welcomed the release of the SAHRC report, which it said did not find any direct violations of human rights by the mine. “The SAHRC has drawn attention to some of the hidden vulnerability of communities and residents around large-scale mining projects,” said Mary-Jane Morifi, head of corporate affairs at Anglo Platinum.

“We will give serious consideration to the SAHRC recommendations. We have common ground with the commission in our belief that mining should enhance the capacities and livelihoods of the communities where we work and we are committed to the goal that resettlement should improve the opportunities available to the affected communities,” she said.

There’s lots to be done
The South African Human Rights Commission’s report found:

  • Communities and the mines were not talking and that no trust existed between the parties, especially during relocations.

  • There was an infringement of communities’ land rights.

  • There was a perception among the communities that organisations such as the Section 21 companies, set up to consult and raise community concerns about relocations, were in fact in the pocket of the mines.

  • Communities around mines lacked potable water, adequate sanitation and were struggling to access electricity. There was a concern about environmental pollution, which threatened food security.

It criticised the mines for a potential lack of cultural sensitivity during grave relocation. The premier’s report found:

  • Escalating conflict between mines and communities, but were also worried that communities were fighting among themselves.

  • Growing mistrust among the communities, especially when dealing with organisations set up to facilitate dialogue between the mines and communities.

  • The relationship between the mines and communities paternalistic. It was recommended that communities be given a larger stake in their land and the mineral rights beneath them.

  • Mining legislature that disempowered the communities should be re-examined.

  • The report asked for “cool heads” when dealing with conflict and for outsiders not to fuel it.

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