Villagers in the North West left with broken promises

Large mining companies are raising, then dashing, the hopes of poor villagers in North West.

Visiting my fiancée’s home village recently after an absence of about two years, I noticed that very little indeed had changed. On the dusty gravel road leading to the Ga-Molekana village, it was evident that villagers were still having a hard life. Taking into account that this little village is less than 20km outside Mokopane (formerly Potgietersrus), and just a kilometre away from a big mine, it seemed wrong that it looked the way it did. And the situation is no different in the village next door, Ga-Pila, which is alongside the mine.

From what I could see, these communities are certainly not enjoying any benefits from having a large mining company on their doorstep. This is a completely different picture to what I saw in Phokeng, near Rustenburg, where there are no problems between the community and the local mine. The reason I raise this is that the mining giant next to Ga-Pila recently made headlines. In an article in a daily newspaper, the people of Ga-Pila accused Anglo Platinum (Amplats) of breaking several promises it had made when the villagers agreed to move to accommodate the mine.

According to the article, the company promised each household prepared to move, a large sum of money. But it seems that Amplats is not keeping its side of the bargain. Community members in Ga-Pila say they were promised a relocation fee of about R100 000 per household, along with shares in the mine, new houses at their new location, clean water, tarred roads and streetlights.

But only the houses were built and the households received just R5 000 each. While commercial farmers across the country, especially in Mpumalanga, have been up in arms about mining companies trying to keep them off highly productive land, communities in other parts of the country (mostly in communal areas), were welcoming them. The idea of having a mine on their land created the illusion of wealth for the rural poor, who were sometimes sweet-talked into signing deals, with promises of money and shares. To these poor people, promises such as these must have given them real hope that the arrival of the mine meant an end to their poverty.

A familiar story
Twenty-eight families in Ga-Pila refused to leave. Those who left are now complaining that the new houses built for them are only 110m² each instead of the 150m² promised. There is no constant supply of fresh water either. “I miss Ga-Pila because I had access to water all the time,” one of the residents who moved was quoted as saying. Unfortunately, this story has become all too familiar.

Next to my home village, Jericho, is an area called Madinyane, which consists of smallholders who own between four and eight hectares each. There is much agricultural activity here. Until recently those people who owned plots but who were not keen on farming were selling land to those who were. But this has suddenly stopped. The reason? Rumours are doing the rounds that a mining company is coming to the area. Many people think they’re about to hit the jackpot. I think many people are wrong.