Death ends Sara Tsebe’s mine battle

In life Sara Tsebe refused to move to Rooibokpan to make way for Anglo American Platinum’s expansion of the biggest open-cast platinum mine in the world, Mogalakwena.

Her wish was to live out her final years in Motlhotlo, the village where she was born 92 years ago. She got her wish — she died at home at the end of last month after a long illness.

But, on Saturday morning, she was buried in the place she had shunned in life.

Tsebe was among the 64 families who had steadfastly refused to take up Anglo American’s offer of a once-off R20 000 cash payment in exchange for moving to Rooibokpan, a township settlement about 8km from Motlhotlo, in the Mapela district of Mokopane, Limpopo.

“What is R20 000?” she asked in an interview last year.

She wanted to be compensated for the loss of her fields, which had sustained her and family for a lifetime. She also wanted enough financial compensation to be able to take care of her grandchildren.

Her son, Ephraim, whom she was looking after, is epileptic and survives on a state disability grant. He burnt his leg after falling into a fire while having a seizure. Now he walks with a crutch.

Tsebe remembered a time in Motlhotlo when they ploughed the lands and harvested bags of millet and mealies, some of which they sent for milling and storage.

READ MORE: The last people stand alone in the face of platinum’s bulldozers

She remembered a time when they had water in abundance and the people had very little use or need for money, when the land was their bank, their bakery, their supermarket and their butchery.

She feared being moved away from the land she loved and the only home she had ever known. She was also afraid of starting a new life in a strange environment at her advanced age.

Rooibokpan was built by Anglo American as part of a relocation process that began in 2005 and tore the largely subsistence farming community in two — the 892 families who accepted the offer and moved and the 64 families who stayed behind and fought on bitterly, even when the mine dumps towered ever closer to their homes and their fields disappeared.

The relocation became the subject of an investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission in 2008 after the nongovernmental organisation ActionAid released a scathing report accusing Anglo American of violating the rights of the people who lived near the mine.

In January Anglo American announced that the remaining families had agreed to move to Extension 14 in Mokopane. Johan Lorenzen, a lawyer representing the families, confirmed that some of the residents, including Tsebe, had reached an agreement.

Anglo American had initially bought two farms in the Mookgophong area for Tsebe and her people’s relocation but the plan fell through after efforts to rezone the farms failed because of opposition from political parties.

At Tsebe’s funeral, it appeared old enmities between the defiant community and Anglo American had been set aside. Both united to give the nonagenarian a dignified send-off.

Anglo American sent two representatives who addressed the gathering and organised a bus to ferry some of the 100 mourners to the cemetery in Rooibokpan.

The company will conduct an independent review of all its resettlements before the end of the year. — Mukurukuru Media

Lucas Ledwaba
Lucas Ledwaba
Journalist and author of Broke & Broken - The Shameful Legacy of Gold Mining in South Africa.
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