Uranium mining town hopes long turned to dust

Dominionville residents say there have been no spin-offs from Shiva Uranium. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Dominionville residents say there have been no spin-offs from Shiva Uranium. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The people of Dominionville in North West have seen it before, and those who were not around have heard the stories. The residents tell it among themselves like a sort of fairy tale – the pre-Disney kind, full of darkness and foreboding – warning against hope.

In 2006, it was Uranium One, they say, that sold the idea that riches would return to their town. In Canada and Europe, the company sold the story of the rich shafts – almost within sight of the residents – and they sold it well.

The people of Dominionville, more than half resigned to the idea that the tide would never turn their way again, read the articles about hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into the company, and dared to dream.

“I said to my wife, ‘Hey, we’re going to buy you a shiny car one day’,” says a local businessperson, technically unconnected with mining operations but, like his neighbours, not willing to be named.
His wife grimaces in mock pain.

Uranium One, as far as Dominionville could see, became Shiva Uranium almost seamlessly; the high finance behind the complex deals that led to it was both opaque and irrelevant to them. With Shiva came renewed hope, even if the name raised eyebrows in the devoutly Christian town.

“I said to my wife, ‘This time for sure!’” jokes the businessperson. “I said to her, ‘If you use your nose, you can smell it!’”

That was so many years ago that the signboards for the Shiva Uranium mines have been bleached almost illegible by the sun. As yet, the money has not materialised. Dominionville barely clings on, a place of white poverty and black despair.

Some have it harder than others but nobody has it easy, and they react to the news of Shiva’s successful listing on the JSE with half shrugs, because it does not warrant the effort of a full shrug. They feel they have been twice fooled; this time they will believe it when they see it.

What they have seen to date is not much. There is talk about many jobs to come, about community projects and infrastructure.

But to outsiders, which is just about everyone, the nearby mines are a series of security checkpoints through which few vehicles enter or leave. The only sign of activity is a plume of dust from a truck at the bottom of an open-cast pit where, according to the warning sign on the public road that runs past it, the last blasting was done in early November.

What happens behind those security barriers the local people do not know, but it is certainly not as much as they would like.

It’s not like it was in the “good old days”, they say, except in one respect. “If you go over that hill, they’ll shoot you,” a woman warns.

Mine security was tight when only gold was mined here, and it remains so.

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet writes about politics, society, economics, and the areas where these collide. He has never been anything other than a journalist, though he has been involved in starting new newspapers, magazines and websites, a suspiciously large percentage of which are no longer in business. PGP fingerprint: CF74 7B0F F037 ACB9 779C 902B 793C 8781 4548 D165 Read more from Phillip de Wet

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