A rural community at odds with mining giant for over a decade finally moves in ground breaking deal. Christina Matjiu rose much earlier than usual on the first weekend of December to lead her family in a sacred ceremony as they prepared to depart from the land they have called home for almost half a century.
The time had come for the family to finally move from their ancestral land after a bruising, lengthy battle with mining giant Anglo American Platinum.
In the past decade they had watched the dull grey dunes from the Mogalakwena Platinum Mine tower ever closer to their home and bury the lands where they once cultivated maize, watermelon, beans, potatoes and other crops.
The time had now come for the homestead they called home to also make way for the expansion of the world’s biggest open cast platinum mine.
The Mogalakwena Platinum Mine is situated about 20km north-west of Mokopane. According to its owners Anglo American Platinum the mine covers an area of 137 square kilometres, making it the biggest open pit platinum mine in the world and its reserves are expected to last until 2040.
In a matter of weeks or months, the home in which Matjiu and her husband raised seven children and grandchildren, would be the site of an active mine with the roar of trucks and heavy machinery replacing the familiar sounds of village life.
But having finally made the decision to move after many years of resistance, Matjiu knows too well the significance of communicating the decision to those whose bones lie beneath the soil, the ones whose spirits still roam the hills to guard over and guide those who still walk the land.
It was an overcast day, the grey sky pregnant with the promise of rain later in the day. Rain, especially soft showers that had pelted most of the northern parts of the country that week, is generally interpreted as a symbol of good fortune or blessings from the gods.
That morning Matjiu, her children and grandchildren took turns kneeling in the centre of their homestead, sprinkling offerings of sorghum beer, tobacco and snuff on the cow dung coated floor – each giving thanks to the gods and saying their goodbyes.
It could be that the rain that fell later was an affirmation from the gods, that all was well, or maybe tears that their descendants were leaving the land they had bestowed upon them decades ago. But this may never be known for the ways of the gods are never truly understood or even questioned. The Matjiu, however, completed what needed to be done.
“I informed them [the gods] that we are leaving. We are going away. They must not wonder and worry when they can’t find us here. They must know we have left and must know where to find us. We carry them with us to our new home,” Matjiu said later that day as friends and family joined them for the going away party.
In most African traditions including MaNdebele ase Nyakatho [Northern Ndebele] to which the Matjiu belong, land is more than just a piece of ground where people set up home or plough to feed themselves – it is also their connection to the spirits of those who came before them; it is a piece of heaven, a gift from the ancestors, which they hold in trust on behalf of their children, their children’s children and way beyond. To simply give it away and leave without paying their respects is considered a grave transgression against the gods.
Matjiu has lived in Motlhotlo, a rural village in the Mogalakwena Local Municipality, Waterberg district of Limpopo since 1971 when she got married to her now late husband. Together they built a large homestead in which they raised their seven children. Two of the children have since died and are buried in Motlhotlo. Their surviving children have also built their own homes around the homestead and raised their own offspring there.
In 2007 Anglo began plans to expand operations for the Mogalakwena Platinum Mine but communities that have lived in the area for decades stood in the way of the planned expansion.
Anglo entered into an agreement with the Langa Traditional Authority for a settlement on the relocation of the communities of Motlhotlo, Ga-Sekhaolelo and Ga-Phuka. But this proved disastrous as a result of a lack of consultation between Anglo; the traditional authority’s appointed representatives and the communities.
The communities also resisted Anglo’s attempt to bully them off their land in exchange for a pittance, a blatant raw deal in which the multinational was offering only R20 000 in compensation and a house in a semi township development.
Johan Lorenzen, a lawyer working with human rights lawyer Richard Spoor to help fight the community’s cause described the earlier attitude by Anglo as “here is R2000
R5000, good luck and have a nice life” kind of approach to the community.
The Human Rights and Business Dilemmas Forum argues that resettling people means more than just replacing their homes hence giving them financial compensation is not always a straightforward solution.
“Resettling communities means that residents may lose land on which their families and ancestors have lived for centuries. It is land which has provided the conditions to support the residents’ livelihoods for many years. Their social life is situated among their neighbours. Children have grown up to go to the community school. Some groups, particularly indigenous groups, may attach spiritual or religious meaning to the land,” notes the forum, a joint initiative between the United Nations Global Compact and British-based global risk and strategic consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft.
Jana Marais, spokesperson for Anglo American Platinum said the Motlhotlo resettlement was initiated in 2005 and all 956 households at the time agreed to relocate. Marais said subsequently, 64 households retracted their decision, electing to remain on the property. Matjiu’s family was among these 64 who later sought the services of Spoor to fight for a better deal.
Marais said the number of households at Motlhotlo grew from 64 to 156 by 2012 and following negotiations, a relocation agreement was signed with the community in June 2012 and Anglo appointed external experts to develop a resettlement action plan.
She said of the 156 households, 92 relocated to the new villages at Armoede and Rooibokfontein and three households selected a location of their choice within a 50km radius of Mogalakwena Platinum Mine and that a separate charter was issued to formalise the relocation project for the remaining 63 households.
Although Matjiu and her family finally left Motlhotlo for Extension 14 in early December after a drawn out battle with Anglo, in the end theirs was not the acrimonious relocation that often sees communities losing their land and left to fend for themselves in a new unfamiliar environment.
Lorenzen said the deal with Anglo “sets a very important precedent in terms of what is the minimum standard for community when you want to profit off a community land.”
As part of the deal the relocated households have each moved into a new house designed to their own needs with running water, electricity, built-in kitchen and cupboard units in bedrooms with a roof tile. Most importantly, they will be given title deeds to their homes.
Lorenzen added that as part of the deal Anglo has already hired 38 people from the 49 households that have agreed to move; the community is also getting a cash payment in advance on relocation and another cash payment as part of relocation and that for six months following, they will also get monthly cash payments to allow themselves to get settled.
In addition Anglo has purchased two commercial farms of over 500 hectares and has set up a trust of R2million “to keep those farms into operation.”
Marais said “the main principle is that households may not be left worse off after a resettlement” and that “all households will therefore be supported to develop a sustainable livelihood.”
“Schooling is being paid for because the households did not pay for schooling in the villages; all suitable education will be provided at no cost to the households. Each household will receive electricity vouchers, and their rates and taxes will be paid for a fixed period. During the allotted time, Anglo American is committed to assist the households to adjust to living in an urban setting. Inflation adjustments were made for payment of other allowances,” said Marais.
Matjiu and her family arrived at their new home in Extension 14 on a cool Monday evening the weekend after the ceremony to bid farewell to the gods. After a frustrating long day of waiting the sight of the removals truck negotiating the dusty road towards their homestead brought some relief.
Matjiu, her two daughters Helen and Victoria broke into song as workmen began loading the furniture, clothes, dishes, cutlery and other household goods they had spent all week packing into boxes. The matriarch Matjiu expressed satisfaction and relief that at last the relocation was finally happening. She could no longer stand the sight of the imposing mine dumps that had moved so close to her homestead she could hear the noise of rocks falling off the tipper trucks.
Victoria is now employed at the mine as a tar dozer operator. She received training on the job. Her eldest daughter Mmathapelo also works at Mogalakwena Platinum Mine as are six other family members as part of the relocation and empowerment deal.
It’s a bitter sweet ending for Victoria though. She is still troubled by an injury to her upper lip caused by a rubber bullet fired by mine security which was set upon a group of community members seeking a meeting with Anglo management. Still caring injuries from the shooting, Victoria spent nine days in police custody awaiting trial before she was eventually released.
“I love this place. But the situation is forcing us to leave. It is no longer safe here. This place is no longer fir for people to live. We have tolerated this for 12 years. We have been fighting but now we are tired,” she said.
Victoria said unlike in the past when Anglo tried to bully the community off the land, they are now happy with the settlement hence they have decided to finally make way for the mine.
Lorenzen said there were two turning points in the engagement between Anglo and the community over the relocation which was the subject of an investigation by the SA Human Rights Commission [SAHRC].
The human rights watchdog launched an investigation in 2008 after the non-governmental organisation ActionAid accused Anglo American Platinum of violating the rights of the communities living near the mine in a scathing report against the multinational.
Lorenzen said one of the turning points was in 2012 when Anglo executive Ben Magara “really made intervention that the fight has been going on for too long and so we can’t continue like this forever.”
He said the second was in 2018 “with a fresh push from Anglo to do the right thing.”
“I can’t tell what was in their heads… but they brought a fresh push and fresh resources to make it happen,” he said.
Marais said the current resettlement plan was informed by the internationally accepted good-practice guidance in the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) performance standard 5, as well as Anglo American’s Social Way requirements.
The IFC is a 185 member organisation under the World Bank and one of its core aims is “to help businesses innovate and create jobs and opportunities for people in developing countries.”
“It should be noted that the IFC standards, as well as the Anglo American Social Way, did not exist at the time when the original resettlements were done in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” she said.
In response to whether this is the kind of approach Anglo will be taking going forward and if this will also be extended to communities previously resettled to make way for Mogalakwena Platinum Mine, Marais said Anglo “has appointed independent consultants to conduct a review of its historic resettlements to assess the status of these communities.”
She said work on the remediation plan is underway and communication to communities on this will continue during this year.
Each of Matjiu’s children, except one who is still pondering whether to leave Motlhotlo, all moved into their own new homes in Extension 14. Their mother will stay with one of her children until her home in the new village is completed.
“I am happy. But I am thinking of my husband and all those who died while were fighting the mine [Anglo]. They did not leave to see this day, but I know they are also happy,” Matjiu said. – Mukurukuru Media