William Mvala, a driller at the Lonmin platinum mine. The Bapong tribal council wants to shut the mine down. File picture: Leon Nicholas
Johannesburg - Divisions over the controversial R640million royalties deal between platinum mining giant Lonmin and the Bapong community are deepening, with the local tribal council demanding that the mine shut down.

If successful, the stand-off could result in about 33 000 job losses, which would severely cripple the already poverty-stricken and underdeveloped community of Bapong near Brits in North West. The company has already invested R1.6billion in procurement contracts with Bapo Ba Mogale Investment (BBMI).

The proposal was contained in two letters written by the Bapo ba Mogale Tribal Authority this month and in October, pleading with President Jacob Zuma and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane to take drastic steps against Lonmin.

This move has exposed the broken relations in what was once a cosy affair between the company and the tribal house, who are the owners of the land, following the signing of their 40-year deal in November 2014.

An impasse occurred earlier this month when Lonmin could not transfer the annual R5m to the Local Economic Development Trust, which is being managed by BBMI on behalf of the council and the community.

Lonmin said this money was supposed to be paid every February as per the deal.

The non-payment ignited a violent protest last week by some members of the community - known as ambassadors, who are employees and beneficiaries of programmes linked to the trust. Allegations are that the ambassadors are in the pockets of the tribal council, which uses them to threaten residents opposing the Lonmin deal.

Some of the ambassadors have since been hired for council projects.

But two weeks ago, they turned against their handlers when they started mobilising themselves before torching tribal offices, a bus belonging to the council and two cars, one of which was owned by BBMI chief executive Lehlohonolo Nthontho.

Nthontho was the key person in the orchestration and conclusion of the Lonmin agreement, despite objections from some members of the community who deemed it deceitful and not transparent. This saw some residents being threatened, while others fled the area, fearing for their lives. The legitimacy of the deal is being fought in the courts.

It appears that Nthontho has allegedly now turned his back on Lonmin and is demanding its closure or suspension of its operations.

In a letter addressed to Zuma and Zwane on November 13, he accused the company of violating its social and labour plans. “Honourable President - writing to you was an expression of frustration, hopelessness, despair and a call for intervention on our part.

"We did so (as) we felt that our issues were no longer receiving attention, hence the need for the powers that be to begin to take our plight seriously before material destruction to property and or loss of life, which today we report to you, that four cars and tribal offices have been burnt,” read the letter.

Interventions by Madibeng Municipality and the office of the premier have not helped to save the “already paralysed relationship” between the council and Lonmin, he added.

Nthontho said that in December 2016 they had requested Lonmin to pay the R5m on November 1 every year, because the community needed Christmas food parcels and bursaries. He claimed Lonmin made a U-turn this month, when it learnt that the council had lodged a complaint with Zuma.

Nthontho could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Lonmin’s head of legal services, Peter McElligott, said there was no legitimate justification for the mine’s operations to be stopped. McElligott said the company would pay the R5m in two instalments: on November 25 and January 15, due to constraints.

Lonmin’s spokesperson Wendy Tlou said: The R5m plus CPIX is payable in February 2018 as per our contract. It is intended for the Bapo Trust and created to uplift the Bapo community. This is in addition to the R20m per annum that Lonmin pays to the Bapo ba Mogale as part of the BEE transaction entered into with the Bapo in December,2014. This amount is paid annually until it reaches R100m.”

Bapong’s 40000 population still remain in poverty.

The Star