Twenty-two years after the election of the first democratic state and 13 years after a new mining regime was legislated in South Africa, the community of Mapela, on the outskirts of Mokopane in Limpopo, are still trapped in a system that has by most accounts continued the legacy of apartheid and dispossession well after the promised liberation from an oppressive yolk.
ActionAid SA’s preliminary research report, Precious Metals II: A systemic Inequality, argues that this reality is not an oversight or merely the slow maturation of a long-term liberation project, but rather a systemic crisis which permeates out from the very mechanisms and institutions introduced to overcome the inequality of the past.
The report seeks to answer the question of why those who used to harvest and eat, are today less secure, more vulnerable and increasingly unable to claim their human rights.
The study was initiated by ActionAid as a follow-up to the study done in the villages of Mokopane in 2008. During that study, ActionAid found a number of human rights violations against the people of Mapela villages, who live in the shadows of the most profitable platinum mine in the world – Anglo Platinum’s Mogalakena Mine. The Mapela community find themselves at the centre of a systemic crisis that has denied them access to livelihoods, increased their food insecurity, limited their access to vital water and trampled on their heritage, all in the name of progress and profit.
The communities here have been engaged in a protracted battle of attrition with Anglo Platinum for almost a century. Johannesburg Consolidated Investments bought the farms in 1926, with the first forcible removals occurring in the late 1960s. By the time South Africa became a democracy, Anglo was preparing to intensify its extraction from the area. By 2002 it had opened a second pit and by 2007 a third.
The aggressive expansion by Anglo saw about 1 000 families, more than 7 000 people, relocated between 2006 and 2015. This happened alongside the introduction of a new mining regime initiated by a democratic government under some of the most progressive human rights standards in the world.
However, from its earliest conception as a White Paper, the new mining regime, which was later to become the Mineral Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002, paid scant attention to the bearers of mining’s negative impacts: the host communities.
The fight by mining-affected communities and civil society to bring the rights of communities to the centre of mining legislation has been mostly marked by small gains and many reversals.
The last version of the act, which was approved by the National Assembly in 2014, and rushed through the Council of Provinces with no consultations with communities, further seeks to limit the scope of community involvement and to render community voices in regulating mining impotent.
It was at the insistence and threat of a constitutional challenge by the national network of mining affected communities, Mining Affected Communities United in Action, that the President, Jacob Zuma, was compelled to send the bill back to the National Assembly for broader community consultation. This bill has still not been processed and the mining regime remains in limbo while communities face increasing food insecurity among a host of human rights violations.
As a response to the study, and following an investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission, Anglo Platinum accused ActionAid SA of producing the report from a “particular ideological standpoint”.
In response to the report, the Human Rights Commission, in its own report on the human rights situation facing the communities of Mapela, saw its then-chairman, Jody Kollapen, argue that the “impact of business can... not always be determined at one point in time like a snapshot, but is often more accurately reflected over a period of time”.
There are concerns on current engagement by the commission following protests over 10 days in September 2015 which effectively shut down the Angloplat Mogalakwena Mine. There has been a denial of community agency, and there is mistrust between community groups and the commission.
Perceptions of collusion between Anglo and the commission exist and there are expressions of no faith in the commission to resolve the long-standing dispute with Anglo, as it previously intervened in 2008/09 and again in 2012, and promises were made but no resolution found.
As with previous “task teams”, for example, the one proposed here was offered stipends and possible roles and positions in a new R5 million Anglo project under Project Alchemy. The Mapela/Langa executive committee refused to participate. Anglo then funded a “leadership training workshop” organised by the Human Rights Commission last year, but this did not have any leadership training component, and was experienced more as a negotiation around community demands.
This was, in itself, a violation of the community’s trust.
In another engagement, ActionAid asked the Society Work and Development Institute of the University of Witwatersrand to provide an account of the impacts of Anglo’s operations on the communities of Mokopane. The report also investigated the efforts by local communities to defend and reclaim their rights in the face of mining expansion. Evidence suggests that many people in the study villages have lost access to land as a result of mining, particularly ploughing fields and grazing land.
In the villages located close to the mine, there are strong complaints about the environmental impacts of the mine. There is serious concern around air pollution, damage to houses and intermittent water.
Many equate this challenge with the impact of the mine, which also relocated families in 2007, separating them from the graves of their loved ones.
As a result, many members of the families relocated feel displaced and culturally violated.
Our findings also suggest that relocation has led to the marginalisation of other social categories, particularly the youth and women.
ActionAid SA invited Dr Sarah Malotane Henkeman, an independent conflict and social justice practitioner, and a senior staff associate of the Centre of Criminology in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cape Town, to test our assumptions.
She agreed that there is a case to be made for a combination of symbolic violence, structural violence, and structural human rights violations; and how this combination of factors play out in the everyday, lived experiences of people in Mokopane.
Meanwhile, there are concerns too about the Social and Labour Plan system, together with broad-based black economic empowerment schemes under the Mining Charter – the main mechanism by which the mines are to channel the proceeds of mining into benefits for the community and the transformation of society generally.
The failure of BBBEE to transform mining ownership patterns is currently a bone of contention between the minister of minerals, the Chamber of Mines and various other parties before the Gauteng High Court. The question before the court revolves around the “once empowered always empowered” claims made by the mining houses and which is contested by the Department of Mineral Resources and the minister as well as by a host of civil society formations.
The legal definition of “once empowered always empowered” aside, the question remains as to what extent has BBBEE served to bring about “substantial equality”.
The research currently under consideration suggests that this remains an elusive reality.
* Christopher Rutledge is the mining and extractives co-ordinator of ActionAid SA.
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.