CHESTER MAKANA

MINING has been suspended at Tshikondeni Exxaro Coal Mine, near Kruger National Park, in Limpopo after disgruntled residents blocked the road leading to the mine, claiming blasting was causing cracks in their houses.

The residents from Mutele and Mukoma Wa Bani, east of Thohoyandou, blocked the entrance to the mine with stones, burning tyres and other debris, effectively prohibiting workers, distribution trucks and mine management from entering the site. The mine produced 299 000 tons of coal during the 2011 financial year.

The residents started the demonstration on Friday, to highlight the problems apparently caused by mine blasting since the mine shifted to an open-pit operation. The demonstration started after a preliminary report on blasting indicated that the cracks in houses and schools did not stem from the blasting.

Maanda Rasivhaga, the community member who led the protest, said the demonstration is also aimed at showing “negligence” on the part of the mine, claiming that it did not consult with the community.

“We were shocked when the blasting started and when we lodged complaints with management they said they would address it – but our buildings are still being damaged,” said Rasivhaga, who added that the community has been living in poverty in the area for the past 20 years. “We have been crying, no one came to help us and that’s why we have decided to make sure that the mine does not operate until we are given a satisfactory explanation,” said Rasivhaga

According to demonstrators, blasting has also caused damage to the local Mutele Primary School and the office of the traditional council. Rasivhaga said they want the mine to compensate residents whose houses were damaged as a result of the blasting.

Protesters are also blaming the mine for an incident in which a local woman collapsed and lost consciousness during the first blasting phase in April last year.

Mutele Action Community chairman Tshifhambano Nenwiini said: “When this blasting occurs, we hear the roofs shaking and donkeys, goats and dogs will run for cover.” Hilton Atkinson, Exxaro spokesman said yesterday that the company is still awaiting a final report on blasting but denied that it was causing structural damage to houses.

“The mine will continue to engage with the community during operations,” he said.