Lonmin mining communities: A powder keg of inequality

Prepared for Lonmin and dating back to 2006, the report and its follow-ups detail the abject poverty in Marikana and other communities where miners who work in Lonmin's platinum mines live.

Marikana was the site of a bloody confrontation between striking Lonmin miners and police, which saw 44 people dead and over 70 injured.

The report, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, investigated the health status of communities around Lonmin Plc in Bojanala but it also provides a useful insight into the conditions under which many of the affected miners and their families live.

Surprisingly, the report showed Marikana was among the better off communities in the area. It details the severe poverty found in the seven villages studied, with the poorest being Modderspruit, Majakaneng, Wonderkop and Segwaelane.

"In these communities more than 60% of the families live on less than R400 per household member per month, or 13 South African Rand per day," said the report.

Researchers found that as many as 9.6% of the households across all the communities sometimes run out of food, while 7.5% reported that they always lack clean drinking water. A combined 77.3% reported living without cash income "always or sometimes".

Asked what companies could do to assist families to improve their health, community members responded by asking for food parcels and access to water, sanitation and healthcare.

"This is symptomatic [of] the poor living conditions of most of the households in this area," said the report.

Living conditions
Ward councillors expressed concerns about the poor access to water in certain areas. While most households in Marikana (78%) had a tap in the house, only 6% of houses in Bapong had taps inside the house.

The report pointed out that in Marikana, an illegal cemetery was located at the same river bank where people collect water for domestic purposes, and wild animals defecated along the river.

One of the most pressing concerns for the communities was the lack of adequate sanitation facilities. Pit latrines were the most common form of sanitation in the communities and councillors reported that community members living in many of the informal areas used the fields for sanitation purposes. In Majakaneng, the community collected water for domestic use from the same river used for sanitation purposes.

Women and children at risk
The primary purpose of the report however was to identify the main health issues in seven different communities, to help prioritise corporate interventions aimed at uplifting the communities.

The researchers found that the most common reasons for which residents visited clinics in the areas were family planning and antenatal care, hypertension, and STIs and HIV/Aids. Professional health care workers identified HIV/Aids as the number one health concern in the villages that they are serving and teenage pregnancies were common among young girls.

Malnutrition was prevalent in the communities and a number of children suffered from kwashiorkor – an easily prevented condition that occurs when there is insufficient protein in the diet. Kwashiorkor is more common in countries in a state of political unrest, or where there has been a drought or natural disaster.

The nearest public hospitals are based in Brits and Rustenburg but the high transport costs involved in reaching these facilities are unaffordable to the poorest households, and the communities rely on the local clinics, which are cramped and understaffed, for their healthcare needs.

The study recommended setting up projects to prevent lifestyle and poverty-related disease, providing food parcels to the indigent, improving HIV/Aids education, and improving health infrastructure and access to basic services in order to improve the health outcomes of the community.

A more recent study, conducted as a follow-up, identified air pollution as well as access to water and sanitation as serious concerns for the community.

Platinum mines fail at CSR
But Lonmin, as with other platinum mines in the area, has been found wanting when it comes to corporate social responsibility [CSR].

The Bench Marks Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that monitors corporate social responsibility efforts, has come across a number of failed CSR projects while studying the impact of mines on communities in the area.

The organisation has complained that the failure of mines to base programmes and concrete investments on what communities themselves say they need, has led to a string of failed investments.

Among these is a multimillion-rand hydroponics project set up by Lonmin. The project was meant to facilitate high-tech farming using a mineral nutrient solution rather than soil, in an area where the environment has been denuded by mining. It was hoped the project would create 120 jobs but it allegedly collapsed following a dispute with a sub-contractor.

Earlier this month, the organisation's executive director John Capel told the M&G: "Companies have made many false promises and there is huge community resentment as a result."

Bench Marks recently launched a report on platinum mining, detailing the economic, social and environmental impacts of platinum mining and the increasing levels of conflict in the area.

The report showed that a Lonmin-supported school in the area had classrooms built with asbestos and that 9 000 workers who had benefited from the company's housing scheme lost their homes when they were dismissed by the mine last May.

It recommended that Lonmin use its CSR programme to fix the sewage system around Marikana, clean up bilharzia-infected water sources, and revive commercial agriculture in the area.

Lonmin could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.

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