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‘Yawning gap’ between Lonmin and poor communities

The mine has defended its investments in the communities, even as residents complain about contaminated water and poor sanitation.

A leaked report dating back to 2006 showed that Lonmin was aware of the poverty and poor living conditions and poverty in the communities around its mines in the Bojanala area of the North West for years.

The report showed that in some villages over 60% of families live on less than R400 per household member per month, or R13 a day, and that there was a dire need for food, water, sanitation and healthcare.

It said that one indication of the high levels of poverty was the number of households that asked for food parcels, as well as the need for health improvement.

On Thursday, Lonmin spokesperson Abey Kgotle said the study had been commissioned to ensure the company was investing in the right areas. A recent follow-up was conducted to assess the impact of the company's interventions, Kgotle said, but this had yet to be finalised.

"There has been an impact but you need to be mindful of the fact that this is an ever-moving target. It changes as more people move into the greater Lonmin communities looking for [work] opportunities," said Kgotle.

According to Kgotle, Lonmin has invested R194-million in the area over the last five to seven years; this includes building and expanding clinics and schools; equipping science labs; and setting up sanitation and water reticulations systems.

School feeding schemes
He said Lonmin had responded to the communities' request for food aid by implementing school feeding schemes in the 29 schools it supports.

But John Capel, executive director of the faith-based Bench Marks Foundation, said there was a "yawning gap" between what Lonmin was saying and what the community experienced.

"We have to see this on the ground but if you go in there, you don't see it," said Capel, who has worked with community members in the area.

Bench Marks recently released its own study, Policy Gap 6, a report on the living conditions of six communities in the platinum belt.

He criticised mining companies for failing to work with communities to understand their needs.

Capel pointed out that one of Lonmin's interventions – a multi-million rand hydroponics project – had collapsed, and Lonmin's annual reports show that a brick-making project was terminated after it was found to be unfeasible.

"They don't engage, they don't communicate properly with the community," he said, adding that because of the poor communication, communities were often not aware of the interventions that were being made.

'Mushrooming' protests
Poor service delivery in the province has also had consequences for families living in the area. The North West has been plagued by service delivery protests this year and in June the SAPS released a statement warning that protests were "mushrooming" and that public violence was intensifying.

"We see perennial escalation [of protests] in the North west … which suggests political tensions fuel protests," said Karen Heese of Municipal IQ, a think tank that monitors municipalities.

Heese said that recent protests in Madibeng also showed the high levels of frustration in communities on the receiving end of slow and unsympathetic service delivery.

In July, auditor general Terrence Nombembe criticised the lack of accountability and leadership in the province when, for the second consecutive year, none of the 24 municipalities and four municipal entities in the province received a clean audit.

The audit found that there had been R166-million in unauthorised expenditure, R165-million in irregular expenditure, and R26-million in wasteful expenditure in the North West in the last financial year.

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Faranaaz Parker
Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live.

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