POSSESSION AND DISPOSSESSION
Activist tells of health issues and assault after removal from land by mining company
A land conference has been told how a mining company removed people from their land without consultation — to a place where there is continual blasting, which causes serious health problems.
‘We need the mines to stop making decisions about our land without us,” said Christina Mdau on Wednesday during the first day of a land conference on The Failed Promise of Tenure Security: Customary Land Rights and Dispossession. The three-day hybrid conference — both online and in person — is being held at several venues across South Africa.
Mdau said that 10 years ago, Tharisa Minerals had removed her from the home she’d lived in her whole life.
“Now they continue to encroach on the land that they moved us to in Madithlokwa, Marikana. We must evacuate every time they are doing a big blast because it’s so strong that the house can collapse on you. Every day there is less intense blasting that cracks our houses and schools. Some people’s houses are so close their houses are damaged by flying rocks.”
Mdau said that graves excavated by the mining company had been moved to Marikana West over a wetland, resulting in the graves sinking.
Some families were compensated with a cow and a goat, and a delegate at the conference commented: “It is disgraceful to give people a cow and goat for desecrating their graves.”
Mdau flagged health issues experienced by her community because of polluted water, dust, and an ever-expanding dump site which now covers the school garden.
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“The mine is about 100m away, so no matter how much you clean, there is dust in the house, children have breathing problems and develop epileptic seizures from the constant trembles from blasting.
“Pregnant women are losing babies or have babies but they pass on before the age of two because of the nitrate in our water,” Mdau said as she showed a video of dark brown water with white foam floating on top. “This is the water we drink, it’s always like this,” Mdau explained.
She is a member of a community organisation, Mining Host Communities in Crisis Network. She alleged that the mine’s security detail, led by William Mpembe, who was the North West deputy police commissioner at the time of the Marikana massacre, assaulted community members during one forced evacuation.
“They just came house to … house to tell us to evacuate to the community hall because they will be doing a big blast that day [11 March 2022]. We refused. We all came out, the security came and saw us resisting so they went back and came back in full gear with shields and all. They assaulted us. They hit my husband over his head so badly. They hit my chest… when I’m just sitting I still feel the pain,” said Mdau.
“We must fight, but the price is heavy. My son was there, and he still gets scared when he sees police or security… it just made me see this is no life to live.
“I want the mine to do as the law says, move us, but to better property [with] better schools, better sanitation and clean water.”
One of the themes of the conference is dispossession, and researcher Dineo Skosana from the Society Work and Politics Institute highlighted that dispossession, once a construct of colonialism and apartheid, continues in present-day South Africa. Over and above the material loss, there are intangible losses when people are dispossessed of land.
“Mines tend to do a material reduction of structures such as a hut, but that hut is a sacred structure for the family — they pray there, they communicate with their ancestors there. Similar to a kraal, it might look like just wood in a circle to mines… but it is a sacred place of connection for a family. Demolishing these structures and removing families from them creates spiritual insecurity,” said Skosana.
Skosana spoke of an incident in Somkhele, KwaZulu-Natal, where the Tendele coal mine removed families from their land and moved excavated graves to a different site. The graves sank into the ground, and because they were not properly marked, people lost the graves of their relatives forever.
A number of attendees at the conference spoke of anger at traditional leaders who speak to corporations and don’t consult communities when seeking to remove people from their land for mining or other business purposes. DM/MC