There is no life without the mine

2017-08-23 00:19

Kevin Matheba is devastated and worried – he may soon lose his job and has no idea how he will survive if that happens.

Matheba works as a blasting assistant for a company contracted by the Bokoni Platinum Mine in Limpopo.

Last month, the owners of the mine, Anglo American Platinum and Atlatsa Resources, announced plans to put the mine under care and maintenance until December 2019, which will lead to the retrenchment of 2 600 permanent workers.

Hundreds of others who work for companies contracted to the mine will also lose their jobs.

“I might be out of work. What am I going to do? There is no plan. The mine is our life,” a frustrated Matheba told City Press.

He has already received notice that he will be laid off within 60 days, and worries about what will happen to his mother and two sisters, who depend on his earnings for survival.

“They should ask Patrice Motsepe to come and take over this mine. He is the only person with the kind of money that can rescue our jobs,” he said.

Matheba is also concerned about what will happen to the people living in Sefateng village, which is separated from the mine’s offices by a road.

Bokoni Platinum Mine is located in Atok, about 90km from the provincial capital Polokwane. It forms part of the Sekhukhune District Municipality, a largely rural, underdeveloped area that, according to statistics collected by Stats SA during the 2011 census, has a population of just more than 1 million people.

The area is home to a once thriving chrome and platinum mining industry.

People’s lives and businesses revolve around and largely depend on mining and subsistence farming in
the area.

According to the Limpopo Economic Development Agency, between 2001 and last year, 17 new mining operations were established in the region, which led to an unprecedented economic and population boom.

The area, which incorporates the towns of Burgersfort and Steelpoort, as well as more than 116 rural villages and settlements, is set for further economic growth as a proposed 22 new mining ventures are set to begin operations in the near future, as is the development of a proposed special economic zone.

Mining contributes 27% to Limpopo’s GDP and the province has 41% of the country’s platinum group metals, mostly in the Sekhukhune district.

But the announcement of the lay-offs at Bokoni has cast a dark cloud over the area. Everyone, from businesspeople, workers and pupils to dependants of mine workers and community leaders, is worried.

Mokhutje Mokgati started a transport business in his home village of Maruping near Bokoni when he retired from his job as a factory labourer in Gauteng two years ago. He registered his Isuzu bakkie with the local transport association, and ferries passengers and goods between the 14 villages around the Bokoni Platinum Mine.

Until recently, the business was doing well – especially on weekends and at the end of the month, when mine workers and their dependents went shopping in places such as Polokwane, Lebowakgomo and Burgersfort.

scramble for jobs The old way of life is still sustained in the villages near Bokoni Platinum Mine, where the majority of residents depend on the mine for survival

“My biggest concern is that there is going to be crime. We are going to be hijacked. When people are hungry, there is theft and crime. People will steal from one another,” said Mokgati.

Although residents feel the mine remains the economic heartbeat of the area, there are also those who feel that the mine’s contribution has not been all that positive.

Many of the residents still struggle to get clean drinking water and the roads are difficult to travel along. Some, including Mokgati, feel that Anglo Platinum has done little to help develop the area.

“There has been very little change. The roads have remained bad and our cars get damaged all the time. We spend a lot of money on repairs,” he said.

There have also been ongoing tensions between communities and Anglo over compensation for the land and pastures taken away by the growing mining development.

But the loss of jobs affects those in favour and against mining in more or less the same way.

Construction company owner Atwell Lesufi built this crèche in Maruping village after being contracted by the Bokoni Platinum Mine in Limpopo. He is worried that the closure of the mine will bring businesses in the area to their knees

Preschool principal Lucy Malatji is worried about the future of the pupils at Leplanka Tswape Creche, which was built by Anglo Platinum as part of its social and labour plan last year.

Malatji said the community was still looking forward to more assistance from Anglo when they heard the news of the proposed lay-offs.

Some of the 33 pupils come from families that depend on social grants, while others are supported by their parents who work on the mine.

“We don’t know what is going to happen,” said Malatji.

One of her children is part of a learnership programme with Anglo Platinum.

“He is very depressed. He is worried about what is going to happen in future,” she said.

Earnings from the mine sustain whole and extended families, and contribute to the small local economy, where small businesses such as car washes, spazas, construction companies, liquor outlets, accommodation and transport are thriving.

Nthabiseng Maditsi, a Grade 12 pupil at Potlake Secondary School in Atok, and the rest of her family depend on her brother, who is employed by Bokoni, for school fees, uniforms and daily sustenance. Her widowed mother is unemployed.

“I don’t want to think about what will happen to us if my brother loses his job. We are going to starve,” she said, nibbling on a kota bought from Mmatšhego Thobejane’s spaza near the school, which is just a few hundred metres away from Bokoni.

Mokhutje Mokgati is worried about his transport business

Thobejane is also troubled by the effect the lay-offs will have on pupils such as Maditsi.

“The problem is that the parents will not be able to look after their children. I really feel bad for these children,” she said.

Early every morning, workers flock to her spaza to buy breakfast and food for their lunch. But after news of the proposed job losses, she has experienced a decline in business.

Her husband, Motsake Thobejane, remembers when mining began in the area decades ago.

“Our king said we should give up our fields and let the mining continue because people here were going to get jobs. You see that dump over there? Those were our fields. Now the mine is going. Are they going to remove that dump so that people can plough again?” asked Motsake.

“Without the mine, there is no more life here. We will starve. We are facing a big crisis,” he said.

Construction company owner Atwell Lesufi, who is also chairperson of the Atok Business Forum, which incorporates 186 business entities including construction, mining, catering, hair salons, spazas, taxis and fast food outlets, said 98% of the business community in the area relied on the mine.

“We are a dead community. If the mine is put under care and maintenance, we are all in trouble. It’s like a drought coming,” said Lesufi.

“We don’t want the mine to shut down because this will kill our businesses. The whole community depends on the mine. We are going to have to deregister our businesses. It is going to be like a desert here,” he said.

He said that, in recent meetings, the forum had discussed the possibility of saving the mine.

“We had meetings with the whole community where we discussed the possibility of getting mining rights and an investor, and exploring the possibility of mining. We have just discussed the issue,” he said.

He said they felt aggrieved that Anglo and Atlatsa made the announcement without consulting with the community.

boom to bust Spaza shop owner Mmatšhego Thobejane fears the closure of Bokoni Platinum Mine will affect her business, as well as the lives of those in the community

“We are angry because they don’t consider that the mine is carrying the lives of people. It seems they are only concerned about their own interests.”

Lesedi Maphakane, the deputy secretary of the Atok Mining Community Stakeholder Engagement Forum, said they were rejecting Anglo’s plan on the basis that there had not been any proper consultation in line with legislation governing community relations with mining companies.

He said they had approached the department of mineral resources to bring Atlatsa and Anglo to the table to resolve their problems.

“If they are no longer interested, they should transfer the mining licence to the community,” said Mphakane.

He said they had also written to the parliamentary portfolio committee on mineral resources, as well as Deputy Mineral Resources Minister Godfrey Oliphant, to ask for an intervention.

“The community will be doomed [if the mine shuts down]. We are totally against its closure.” – Mukurukuru Media


How should mining companies ease the burden on local communities? Will legislation help?

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March 18 2018