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Communities have been made poorer, desperate by mining operations – report

Sekhukhune residents affected by disruptions to livelihoods

Mining operations in Sekhukhune, Limpopo, have led to contaminated water sources, polluted farms and the removal of gravesites in the area.

These are the findings contained in a research report released by civil society organisations Amnesty International SA, Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the Sekhukhune Combined Mining-Affected Communities on Tuesday.

The findings are based on the responses received from people living in the communities affected by the mining operations in the area.

The community members spoke of how the mining operations caused disruptions to their livelihoods, ways of life and human health.

The report was launched in a virtual event attended by members of the civil organisations under the theme: “Unearthing the truth: have the mines failed the communities in the Sekhukhune region in South Africa?”

The research focused on the compliance of social and labour plans (SLPs) by three mining companies operating in the Sekhukhune area and experiences of local mining-affected communities.

The research was conducted between October 2020 and July 2021.

A SLP is a document which mining companies are required to submit to the minerals and energy department outlining how a mine will benefit communities affected by the mining operation.

The three mining companies investigated were Twickenham platinum mine – a wholly owned subsidiary of Anglo American Platinum Limited which is the world’s largest primary producer of platinum, Marula platinum mine – owned by Impala Platinum Holdings Limited, and Sefateng chrome mine.

According to the report, the residents in the region of Sekhukhune bitterly complained about losing their livestock, their chief source of income, as a result of the mining operations in the area.

“Inhabitants of several villages suffered loss of livestock due to mining-related impacts according to interviewees. These experienced impacts include soil and water pollution [which has in some instances caused declining livestock fertility stated by community members], and loss of previous sources of water and grazing land, both of which have exposed livestock to dangers such as attacks by wild animals as they have had to feed near mountains,” read the report.

One researcher interviewed explained how the loss of cattle further impacts life prospects of rural communities by limiting the ability to sell livestock to pay for education of their children, read the report.  

“Now there’s no other way of making a living, because those farms are now polluted with mining rubble and waste from the mines, which was dumped on their farms and there’s nothing they can do. We’re trying to negotiate with the mine and they are not willing to listen to the plight of those families,” said one of the community members interviewed.

The report also stated that residents said they and their livestock fell sick from drinking water in the area which became contaminated by the mining operations.

Another issue pointing to the poverty of locals due to mining operations, tells of rural women being drawn into transactional sex agreements with mine employees. It is mostly with male staff at management level, in exchange for employment opportunities. 

According to the report, communities lacked proper representation due to the co-option of their elected representatives by the mines.

The report found that the department of minerals, resources and energy failed to adequately regulate mines and carry out its oversight role to ensure the implementation of community development plans in Sekhukhune.

The report also found that all the three mining companies investigated had failed to comply with obligations which arose from respective SLPs.

The report recommended that the department establish well-resourced financial and human local community department of minerals, resources and energy offices in minerals complexes and an independent, impartial, and thorough grievance mechanism for mining-affected communities.

Sowetan

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