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Rural Limpopo women protest against Sefateng Chrome Mine

Women from a rural village in Limpopo have spent cold nights sleeping under a tree near the entrance to a mine operating in their area. They have been there since June to stop the mine owners from transporting thousands of chrome deposits stockpiled on the property.

The move is part of an ongoing battle between the Ga-Mampa community, who are shareholders in the Sefateng Chrome Mine, and the mine’s owners, which include a state-owned company. 

“We sleep here, not because we like it, but because of poverty. It’s very painful,” said one of the residents, Francina Manthata, seated among other women under a motlopi (Shepherd tree) about 400m from the Sefateng Chrome Mine’s entrance in Ga-Mampa.

“We leave our children with the grannies. Some depend on their nextdoor neighbours to take care of their children while they are gone. They don’t refuse, because they know that the soil is being stolen,” said Manthata.

In 2017 her cousin, Tinus Manthata, was shot and killed, allegedly by mine security near the mine’s entrance during a similar protest by community members. 

The village is in Sekhukhune, a rural area along one of the country’s lucrative platinum metal group mining belts, and a bustling mining hub that’s a major contributor to the Limpopo GDP

In papers filed in the Polokwane high court in August, the Ditlou Mampa Traditional Authority and the Mampa Serole Community Trust, which own 1.67% shares in the mine, are asking the court to review and set aside the mining right and permit granted to Sefateng Chrome Mine. 

The mining permit on the farm Waterkop 113KT was granted in May 2014 for open-cast chrome mining. Community members said mining operations ceased last year and moves are now afoot to develop the operation into an underground mine. The Ga-Mampa community is involved in a dispute over the terms of the underground operation.

As such, they want the court “to order the immediate halting of all mining operations and transportation of minerals from Waterkop 113 KT”.

Julia Sekgobela, chairperson of Sefateng Business Forum, which represents the village’s traders and entrepreneurs, said Sefateng Chrome had cited running at a loss as the reason it failed to pay the community’s dividends.

“We are saying, the open-cast mining has ceased to operate. The open-cast mine was closed last year — they retrenched people. Why are they now selling this chrome? This means they are stealing the chrome. They have been stockpiling the chrome and now they are selling it, which means the community would benefit nothing. That is theft,” said Sekgobela.

The applicants want the court to compel the mining house “to provide all annual financial statements, reports by directors with respect to the state of affairs, the business, profit and or loss of the company within a period of seven days.”

The respondents in the matter are Sefateng Chrome Mine, which runs the mining operation; majority shareholder Corridor Mining Resources (CMR); and Traxys Africa, a company contracted to transport the chrome from the mine.

The other respondents include the Roka Makgalanoto Phasha Trust and Jibeng Community Trust, which represent two neighbouring communities that also have a 1.67% shareholding in the mine.

Government departments and officials cited in the matter include the Limpopo MEC for rural development and land reform, the regional land claims commissioner in Limpopo, and the director general of mineral regulations at the department of mineral resources.

CMR, which owns 55% in the operation, is wholly owned by the Limpopo Economic Development Agency (Leda), an agency of the Limpopo department of economic development, environment and tourism.

Leda spokesperson Leo Gama said the agency can respond to the matter only once it is served with court papers. He said Leda was unable to comment “since there has been no legal proceedings/summons instituted against CMR in relation to this matter.” 

“The facts are, CMR is one of the shareholders in Sefateng Chrome Mine and is not involved in the day-to-day running of the project,” Gama said. 

Numerous attempts to reach Sefateng Chrome Mine for comment were unsuccessful. The office of the regional land claims commissioner also failed to respond to requests for comment.

The community members, irked that Sefateng Chrome was continuing to move thousands of tonnes of chrome deposits from the mine while the legal matter is pending, blockaded the road leading to the mine with rocks and tree branches, leading to a stand-off with police.

“The mine management insisted on taking the chrome, even though we were yet to have discussions on this matter. That’s when the community started sleeping here to guard our chrome,” said Mosibudi Mampa of the Ditlou Mampa Traditional Authority.

Various community members alleged that the trucks transporting the chrome from the mine did not follow regulations, such as going through a weighbridge to register the weight of the minerals they were carrying.

They also alleged that some of the trucks did not have registration plates and that they were not certain if they had the required permits showing where the minerals were being transported to. 

Mampa said these are the main reasons behind the community members camping near the mine to monitor the trucks.

Police escort trucks carrying chrome from the Sefateng Chrome Mine as residents of GaMampa watch in frustration. The residents have asked the courts to stop the transportation of chrome until agreements between the parties are finalised. (Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

“But one other thing that confuses us while we stand guard over our chrome is the presence of the police. We are wondering: What are they doing meddling in our issues? Because they were not there when this whole thing started,” said Mampa.

Sekgobela said the community has never received any dividends from its 1.67% shareholding and that the mine’s owners had never met any of their obligations as stipulated in its social labour plan (SLP). Mining companies are required by law to submit their plans, outlining how the community will benefit, to the department of mineral resources in their applications for mining rights. 

Sekgobela said some of the commitments in the SLP included providing skills training for locals, but this had not been met. She said part of the agreement was that a monthly amount of R40 000 would be paid into the community’s trust account for loss of surface rights, but this has never been paid. 

“When we asked about this, they said the mine was running at a loss. We then asked for financial statements. But these never came,” she said.

She said in 2017 the parties agreed that the community would receive 1% from every truckload of chrome being transported from the mine. She said there had been some irregular payments of between R5 000 and R20 000 each, but these stopped without any explanation in October last year.

A South African Human Rights Commission report on socioeconomic challenges facing similar communities noted that many of them “continue to experience significant levels of poverty and systemic inequality, which reinforces the notion that the benefits of mining operations disproportionately favour mining companies [and] the state and are often to the detriment of local communities.”

The 2016 report, titled National Hearing on the Underlying Socioeconomic Challenges of Mining-affected Communities in South Africa, also noted that “despite extensive regulation and notable attempts by mining companies and government to implement progressive and sustainable projects, current industry practice is characterised by inconsistent legal compliance and reflects concerning legislative gaps”.

While the parties wait for the matter to be heard in court, the women of Ga-Mampa have been sleeping under the motlopi during the cold winter nights and taking cover under its shade in the hot days. 

In solidarity, local business people donated food that the women cook in three-legged pots on wooden fires under the motlopi. 

On Friday 3 September, police fired on the unarmed group of community members with rubber bullets when they attempted to stop trucks from transporting chrome from the mine.

“We are asking for the government to not only engage with us on political issues but to also help us on this issue. The mine management should come here and pay us the money that they made when they took our soil from the mine,” said Mampa.

Lovemore Manonoka of the Fetakgomo Tubatse Business Forum said the community had written letters to Sefateng Chrome management requesting meetings, but that these had been ignored. “We blockaded the gate, hoping they would come out and hear what our problem was,” he said. 

The community now pin their hopes on the courts. The respondents were given 15 days to file opposing affidavits, failing which the matter would be heard unopposed on 26 October.

In their motion, the applicants rejected suggestions that the matter be referred to mediation because “the issues at hand are of a legislative nature” and “several attempts to hold talks never materialised”.

Manthata said: “We will see how far God takes us. The mine management refuse to come to the community. Yet when they want the money, they are able to come to the community. We don’t understand why they refuse. But we will wait,” Manthata said. – Mukurukuru Media

This article was possible due to the support of the German federal foreign office and the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (IFA) Zivik funding programme. The views presented in this article do not represent the views of the German federal foreign office nor the IFA.

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

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