One week before Julius Malema launched the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in Marikana in October 2013, red berets were prominent on the streets of the small town. In the surrounding villages the atmosphere was electric, filled with excitement, expectation, impatience. It had been almost 14 months since 34 miners were killed and 78 injured when police opened fire on protesters during a wage strike at Lonmin, the mine near the town.

Now, seven months after the party’s launch, as the Independent Electoral Commission tallied the final results for South Africa’s national elections, the EFF edged past the DA to become the official opposition in the North West. The fledgling party led by Malema, a former ANC Youth League president, was allocated five seats in the province’s legislature compared with the DA’s four and the ANC’s 23.

Should we be surprised by this success? For decades, communities in this mineral-rich area have been evicted from land to make way for mining operations. Unemployment rates remain high and those who do get jobs on the mines are paid very little. The EFF, which called for nationalisation of mines and land ownership during its campaign, provided hope, with a strong dose of anger, that the tables of profit might be turned.

South Africa is the world’s leading producer of platinum, but only a few people are benefiting from the resource. For example, Anglo Platinum CEO Chris Griffith took home R17.6 million in 2013, including salary, bonuses and shares. Steve Phiri, who heads up Royal Bafokeng Platinum, earned R6.3 million, and Lonmin’s CEO Ben Magara finished up with R12.4 million. But the people who bring the platinum to the surface are still on strike, demanding R12 500 a month, which is more than double the current basic entry-level salary. The strike, which has been running since January, has so far cost the sector R14 billion and is the worst to ever affect SA’s mining industry.

The North West had a 26.2% unemployment rate in 2012, according to Statistics SA. Finding employment statistics from government sources for the Bojanala District, in which Marikana, Chaneng and Potsaneng fall, is not an easy feat. However, the Bench Marks Foundation reported to Parliament that the unemployment rate in the municipality was 43%.

A scene in the village of Potsaneng is ubiquitous in the North West: Nine or 10 men drinking beer from quart bottles at 11am on a weekday. These men say that most of them are employed only on a contract basis by the surrounding mining companies, and that the companies bring in scores of migrant workers instead. When the contract ends, they don’t know when they will be called back to work again, so they find themselves in a state of limbo.

“The government is not on our side,” says 27-year-old Philip Ntuli, one of the men drinking. “We need to ask Zuma and the ANC what he is going to do when he hears these stories of Marikana. At least Julius comes to visit us. “Look at the mine strikes,” he says. “We never had any ANC support. But Malema has shown us the manifesto of the EFF. He thinks we are important and he will support us.

“Young people are growing increasingly frustrated and thereby increasingly radical,” says Chris Rutledge, coordinator at Action Aid South Africa and an activist working with community-based organisations in the North West. “It is they who are driving a culture of protests, which are becoming more and more regular.”

Johannes Phiri, also from Potsaneng, is 18 years old and works at the Styldrift mine, one of the Bafokeng Rasimone Platinum Mines. Royal Bafokeng Platinum owns a majority in it and Anglo Platinum is a minor shareholder. Phiri believes in the EFF’s aggressive policies on mine nationalisation and land restitution. He feels that if the mines are nationalised, government will treat mineworkers the same way it treats state employees. “People who work with the dustbins get more money than us in the mines, and we risk our lives every day,” says Phiri. “We are given peanuts.” He explains his anger at the mining industry and the department of mineral resources. “Most mines sit in rural areas,” he adds. “They use our resources − that’s why we say please, please give our people a living wage. Employ our people. Give us something back.”

Rutledge says that one of the main reasons the EFF resonates with supporters in the province is that it was the first party to respond to the Marikana massacre.

“People in the North West feel that they have been abandoned in many ways by the existing political parties,” says Rutledge. “The quick response by the EFF [to the Marikana massacre] and the fact that it has taken up mineworkers’ calls for a pay increase to R12 500 a month, so loudly, has certainly won approval within that constituency.”

He says that the issues of land, mining and employment have been simmering for a long time in the communities there, and the EFF has served as a catalyst for action.

“We have experienced that many communities survive off the land,” he explains. “Once mining comes in, they are generally relocated into township living. They are now considered semi-urban and are forced into a cash economy where they need money to survive, but there is no employment.” According to Statistics SA, the North West had the fifth-highest level of unemployment in mid 2013, at 26.5%.

The attraction to the EFF’s is understandable, according to David van Wyk, chief researcher at the Bench Marks Foundation, an NGO that monitors and measures corporate performance and corporate social responsibility against international measuring instruments. “Young people in most mine-affected communities are very impressed with the EFF,” says Van Wyk. “They feel they have not had a voice in the past, even in the context of the ANC Youth League.” In the youth league, he says voices of the youth have been drowned out by the old guard, with old struggle credentials. “That story of credentials doesn’t wash anymore,” he says. “Young people feel new issues, and new challenges. The old relationships between mining companies and the government have discredited people and their struggle credentials.”

But, from a legal point of view, things are not looking up. While the current mining law – the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act – already offers little protection for communities living on land that mining companies have their eyes on, a new amendment bill not only entrenches this lack of protection but enhances it. Rutledge gives a brief but comprehensive explanation of the problems with the current act.

“The way it works,” he says, “is that a mining company identifies an area of land that it wants, and then applies for a license. From that point there is nothing to stop the company from prospecting even though their license has not yet been approved. They begin drilling, and it’s only when the work begins that the community realises that something is happening. That’s when a struggle emerges between the company and the community.”

The current laws are not implemented properly, says Shirhami Shirinda, a legal researcher at the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), based in the North West.

The act gives landowners, who are mostly white, the first option to prospect. “But it doesn’t say anything for rural communities, who are mostly black, and who are known as occupiers, not owners, of the land, based on the 1913 Land Act,” says Shirinda. “The act still discriminates against black people. It does not give them the same rights it gives landowners. When we entered the new South Africa, the aim was to redress all the wrongs of the past, but we are still far away from that; we are still in the old days.”

Rutledge says that while the act requires a consultation’ process, there is no definition of what this actually means. “So they set up Section 21 companies and set up a meeting in which 40 or 50 people are present who ask five questions. None of them get answered and the meeting is documented as proof of community consultation and community acquiescence.”

Consultation is clearly a massive issue for communities along the platinum belt. Themba Johannes is 32 and unemployed, living in the nearby village of Chaneng.

“When this company, at the time it was Anglo Platinum, came to our land, we knew something was happening when we saw people walking around on the land. We’ve tried since 2008 to communicate with the company, but these people are not interested in consulting with us. Some people were moved to a place called Mafenya, and the company built them houses, but after four years the walls have already cracked.” The people who remained behind have cracked walls and roofs from the blasting from the mine. “When we complained, they told us we must stop our children from running around the house.” Other complaints from Chaneng residents included that dust from the blasting affected their lungs, fruits and vegetables could no longer grow in the ground or died very quickly, and the water in their boreholes became dirty and unusable. “Our main concern is that we are not consulted,” he says. He is speaking specifically with regard to the Styldrift mine. “One day [company representatives] came here and did a presentation to us saying they were building this mine. When we challenged them, they thought we were difficult.

On September 6 2013, the LRC made a submission to the portfolio committee on mineral resources regarding the Mineral and Petroleum Resource Development Amendment Bill, which they found to decrease what little power communities in mining areas had over their land and resources. They had earlier made submissions to the department of mineral resources during the short period open for public comment, but received no response. The amendment bill, which was supposed to be an opportunity for stakeholders to give recommendations that would empower affected communities, took a speedy journey to the president’s desk and is now waiting to be signed off. None of the recommendations from the LRC’s submission were included. The submission states that the act “promises redistribution but discriminates against black community land owners who get no benefit from mining on their land”. It continues: “We have the opportunity today … to redress the regimes created in 1813 and reinforced in 1913, and afford rural communities on communal land to assert their negotiation rights.”

But, according to the LRC, the bill did not follow the proper legal process to get as far as it did, and to enable appropriate engagement. The centre sent a letter to the presidency on April 3 on behalf of three organisations, addressing their concerns about the lack of public participation in the bill’s consultation processes. The letter calls for the bill to be sent back to Parliament and follow the proper legal processes. “The National Council of Provinces and provincial legislatures failed to take reasonable steps to facilitate public involvement when passing the bills … As a result of the rushed manner in which the [bill] was processed, the provincial legislatures and the National Council of Provinces had insufficient time to organise and hold public hearings on the bill.” It states that the council did not invite written or oral submissions from the public. This, according to the letter, is unconstitutional in that it violates sections 72 and 118 of the Constitution, which says that the council must “facilitate public involvement in the legislative and other processes of the council and its committees”, and that “the provincial legislature must facilitate public involvement in the legislative and other processes of the legislature and its committees”. The letter was acknowledged by the presidency, but has as yet not received a response.

The Con also visited a place called Mokgoropane, where families from Chaneng had been moved to when they were displaced. Here the roads are lined with small, one or two bedroomed houses, all exactly the same. “The companies don’t take into account that there are large families who cannot stay in such a small house,” says Linda Siliso, a community member. “Or people who spent years saving up to build a borehole, and now they can’t use it anymore. Or they don’t think about moving people to places where the soil is arable and where there is lots of water.”

Alfred Motsi is the coordinator for the EFF in the North West. When he spoke to The Con two days before the elections, he was ecstatic and out of breath. “Julius is loved,” he says, “because communities in the platinum province do not receive any benefit from the mines around them.” “We want to stop money from mining being taken out of the country to foreign CEOs, or to headquarters in Johannesburg. People are removed from their land and given RDP houses, and the stands they are given are very small. All the farms around here are owned by white people, and black people don’t benefit.”

From the response to the EFF’s policies for the province, and its electoral success, it appears the party has tapped into the desire of these communities for what appears to be fair exchange – resources for significant ownership and social benefits. It also recognises the desperate need for inclusivity in making decisions about the land people have lived on for decades. They have aligned themselves with what has become a mantra for dissenting communities in mining areas: “Nothing about us, without us.”

But competing parties aren’t buying it. Ishmael Mnisi, spokesperson for the ANC in the North West, says that the party’s policies on mining are not based on events and elections: “Our policies are based on our beliefs and a well thought-out process. Being the new kids on the block, voters tend to be sympathetic to such parties [Cope in 2009 and the EFF in 2014] and want to give them an opportunity to exist. But come the next elections, we’ll see a different picture.”

Boy Jacobs, chairperson of Agang in the North West, says that although the EFF may have stepped in as the official opposition, “when you look at the analysis and the numbers, the EFF did not take anything from the ruling party – it took the number of seats that Cope had before. When it comes to mining, we stand fast. We are not going to advise anybody to nationalise any mines – it’s a mess up that we know has been applied by several countries, like Zambia and Zimbabwe. We need to change the state of the industry and have a different approach to keep existing jobs and create new jobs.”

The DA’s North West chairperson, Winston Rabotapi, says that “the idea of nationalisation is a populist idea. A lot of people don’t subscribe to that. But those who invest in mining must plough back to the communities.”

But mining companies say that they have done everything required of them – and more. According to Happy Nkhoma, head of communications at Lonmin, the company has paid the trustees of the Bapo Community, on whose land the mine sits, about R370 million in royalties over the years. “Unfortunately, much of this money appears to have been pilfered while in the custody of the Bapo trustees,” he says. He says that Lonmin has implemented a number of upliftment programmes, and that “we consult the community leadership, from political ward councillors to religious leaders, as well as the Bapo traditional leadership”. Contrary to community members’ claims, Nkhoma says many are employed on a permanent basis, although he admits that unemployment levels are high. And regarding complaints about an influx of migrant workers, he says that “this is a function of socioeconomics in a democratic country where there is freedom of movement and human rights”.

Jim Jones, a PR consultant for Royal Bafokeng Platinum, says that the company holds monthly community forum meetings with its host communities where all relevant issues are discussed and programmes are agreed upon. The meetings, he says, are open to all Bafokeng, that many attend them and that the forums provide “opportunities for vigorous discussions, particularly on the intergenerational strategy of benefiting everyone”. According to its website, “the Royal Bafokeng Nation has wisely invested its mining royalties for the benefit of the community”.

The department of mineral resources and Anglo Platinum had not responded by the time of publishing.



Main Pic: Economic Freedom Fighter – Julius Malema on the campaign trail in the build up to last week’s national election by Jonathan Wood

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