‘But there’s no tavern’ – Residents still unhappy despite sweet deal to relocate to brand-new suburb

2019-04-23 23:20

A new home, free municipal rates for 20 years, a decorating budget, R100 000 and more perks, but some Siyathemba residents are still unhappy

It appeared to be a very sweet deal: a custom-built house, a R15 000 redecorating allowance, a R20 000 curtain allowance, 20 years of free municipal rates, and cash to replace their fruit trees and lawns.

To sweeten it even more, there was R100 000 in cash, and professional movers were hired to relocate them 32km away to Siyathemba, a brand-new suburb of Kathu, in the Northern Cape.

But still, some residents are unhappy.

Needing to expand its Sishen mine, Kumba Iron Ore moved 3 437 Dingleton residents from 507 households.

The mine has one of the country’s largest iron ore reserves and produced 43 megatons, or R11 billion worth, last year.

Dingleton, formerly known as Sishen, was established as a mining town in 1953 by apartheid state-owned company Iscor.

Rental flats Kumba

In 2007, Kumba’s bosses realised that to extend the mine’s life, they would need to expand it towards the edge of the old town.

But the process only began in 2013, when 85% of residents agreed to move.

Siyathemba, where most residents moved to last year, boasts new face-brick homes, replete with solar panels and a JoJo tank each.

To accommodate backyard renters, the mining firm built blocks of flats with 104 two-bedroom units.

There are seven brand-new churches, a new police station, a library, a community and youth centre, and a pre-primary and primary school for its 600 children.

The new police station

Even owners of businesses, such as guest houses, had those rebuilt.

The big move cost Kumba R3 billion.

Kumba chief executive Themba Mkhwanazi said Dingleton “represented many generations of families and many livelihoods, and it was important for us to make sure that when we did the relocation, we did it in a way that was aligned to international best practice”.

The new Siyathemba Youth Centre

“In our view, people are a lot better off in terms of where they are at today,” he said.

But people are still complaining.

Ten households chose to remain in Dingleton to negotiate larger settlements, when lawyers “from outside” convinced them they could squeeze the mine for not just more money, but shares too.

Paulus Oor outside the Siyathemba Youth Centre. He’s unhappy with the new town. Picture: Rosetta Msimango

Others who moved are now complaining that they were not given everything the mine promised them, and are entitled to more. They also bemoan their lost sense of community.

Paulos Oor (34), who moved with his parents and five-member household to Siyathemba in 2016, laments the loss of the town’s taverns.

“In Dingleton we had sports grounds, swimming pools and taverns – things young people do. Here there are none. When we want to hang out, we do so by the post office – but the Catholic Church has a problem with us being there,” he said.

“Dingleton was fun for me as a child growing up. Life was enjoyable that side. When we got here, there was no longer that love.”

Life in Kathu, he says, is more expensive than it ever was in Dingleton.

“As young people, we now have no social life. Crime is high in Kathu, and drugs, and some of the young people are adopting those things. There are no activities for young people,” Oor said.

The lounge of a new home

But last week, Mkhwanazi and the Gamagara Local Municipality mayor, Edwin Hantise, handed over the youth centre.

It comes equipped with a picnic area, a computer centre with six computers, a foosball table and a counselling room, among other facilities.

Oor said he hoped residents would now “breathe life into the centre”.

Another resident, homeowner Sana van Wyk, felt similarly hard done by.

“That R100 000 is lank al klaar. We do not have money. I was one of the people who agreed to move because I thought we would have a better life here, but it isn’t,” she said.

“Kumba didn’t treat us all the same. Some people got better deals and houses than others. Some people on the other side of the suburb are getting a ‘third room allowance’ and we’re not.”

How one relocated resident spent their curtain allowance

Three other residents agreed life was better in Dingleton.

“Here we pay for water; in Dingleton we didn’t. It’s not nice here. Everyone is on their own. The school is far for our kids and we have to pay that transport. We are also not getting jobs; it is people from other communities that get the jobs,” one woman said.

Her sister added: “They said the youth will be better off, but so far not. They get people to hire us and we only get paid R18 an hour – that is not money. I did painting and the like, but now if we complain, we are told we’ll be taken off site. I have three kids; what can I do with R18 an hour?”

The kitchen inside one of the new homes

The women live together in a new two-bedroom house with eight other people and wonder why another family of six was able to get two houses and they weren’t.

But some are happy – including small business owners like Christo de Kokker, who owns a construction company. The move secured him a three-year contract to build some of the new suburb’s facilities, such as the youth centre.

Mkhwanazi said R130 million was paid to small and medium-sized companies for work done in Siyathemba.

George Maluleke, Kumba’s general manager of projects, is used to all the complaints.

“The homeowners had the freedom to choose which stand they wanted, and where. Trust me, a significant proportion wanted to stay next to each other, but there were those who said: ‘Thank God I don’t have to stay next to so-and-so anymore,’” he said.

The homeowners were also given the choice to get in an architect to help them plan their new home.

And then there were the renters, squatters and backyard dwellers who had to be moved too, and some homeowners did not take kindly to the block of flats the company built for them because they would lose out on the rental income.


But on the whole, it has been a good move.

Mkhwanazi was inspired by something one of the local pastors said to him.

“He said: ‘Thank you for bringing us to our promised land – our land of milk and honey.’ And that was the confirmation for the work we had done. It is our motivation and aspiration that Siyathemba continues to be that Promised Land.”


Given the compensatory measures taken by Kumba to relocate Siyathemba residents, do you think the unhappy ones are right to moan?

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August 18 2019