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Communities near mines see little benefit from riches underground

Residents in the dark about social project promises

Residents of Khutsong in Carletonville believe that the mining operations on their doorsteps have brought no positives to their lives as they continue to languish in poor service delivery and stagnant development.

The township on the West Rand is one of many that were mentioned in a social audit report by civic organisations which states that 79% of mining affected communities in the country are not benefiting from the multibillion-rand industry.  

Civic organisations including Macua/Wamua and ActionAid conducted audits on social labour plans (SLPs) of 10 mining companies in Limpopo, Gauteng, the North West and the Free State.

The site where Harmony Gold mine was supposed to build a rental unit to benefit the community of the Merafong area.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

Mining houses submit SLPs as part of their application for mining rights to the department of mineral resources and energy (DMR) to show their commitment to support development in the communities where they operate.

According to the report, Harmony Gold, which is one of the companies mentioned,  failed to fulfil promises made in the SLP for 2013-2017 to uplift the Khustsong community.

According to the report, a rental housing development project, a digital hub, farming support project and others mentioned in the SLP never benefited the communities in the Merafong area. 

Mantwa Molefe, 40, from Khutsong said mines in the area had brought no improvement to the lives of residents.

“The unemployment rate here is high and youth are involved in criminal activity. Living in a place like this is painful. There is gold being mined here but the lives of residents are not improving,” Molefe said.

Lebogang Ramothwala, 37, from Khutsong Township in Carletonville.

Veli Nhlapo

Molefe said most residents were in the dark about social projects initiated by mining companies, including the Deelkraal rental unit project mentioned in Harmony Gold’s SLP.

“Physical verification by the social audit team revealed that the rental units committed to in Deelkraal did not exist,” the report states.  

Molefe said the community’s relationship with the company was one of broken promises and poor communication. The unemployed mother of two said her family depended on her mother’s pension grant, which was a reality for most households as jobs were scarce.

“Mines have brought us nothing but stress. Most people here feel hopeless,” Molefe said.

Merafong residents now used to living with stench, in dark

The Merafong municipal area is surrounded by several privately owned mines but according to the report, job opportunities for local residents are limited.

Another Khutsong resident, Lebogang Ramothwala, 37, said the SLPs did not speak to the needs of residents. “The mines do not consult with the community to find out what we need. They write those plans for themselves,” Ramothwala said.

Smelly water from a clogged sewage pipe could be seen near Dipuo Diale’s gate. The 69-year-old has also watched six of her neighbours move out because their houses were caving into sinkholes.

Diale said though she knows that it is only a matter of time before her own house starts to fall apart she refuses to move into the four-roomed houses provided by the government as an alternative. “I would rather sink with my house. How do they expect me to leave my seven rooms for a four-roomed house?”

Harmony Gold brand manager Max Manoeli said the company had invested in various projects including a digital hub that created three full-time jobs, a recycling project costing R3.5m and support for the Nooidgedargh farm to the tune of R2.5m.

Manoeli said the rental unit project was initiated after the company’s Deelkraal mine stopped operating in 2004 with the aim to develop it into a township, but there were issues with rezoning the area.

“Our socioeconomic strategy ensures that we create trust with all our employees, host communities and government. Responsible stewardship is one of our strategic pillars and forms the foundation upon which our socioeconomic activities are built,” he said.

Macua/Wamua spokesperson Phyllia Ngoatje said the DMR should do more to hold companies to account. Ngoatje said most mining areas, especially in rural settings, continue to experience extreme poverty.

“This is the common trend because mining companies do not leave projects with long-lasting benefits in communities. The quality of life in a lot of mining communities is not very high,” she said.

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