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Limpopo villagers win court round in battle for bigger stake in chrome mine

Limpopo villagers win court round in battle for bigger stake in chrome mine
Women in the mineral-rich Sekhukhune district search for chrome which they sell on the black market to survive. (Photo: Supplied) | Residents from four farms camp outside the chrome plant at Diphale village near the Marula Platinum Mine. (Photo: Supplied) | Women in Sekhukhune look for chrome. (Photo: Supplied) | Residents try to prevent trucks from transporting chrome. (Photo: Screengrabs)

Residents have landed a fresh blow in the fight over mining in Sekhukhune, Limpopo, where they have camped out at the entrance to the Makgomo Chrome plant, near the Marula Platinum Mine, blocking trucks carrying chrome from the plant. This week, the company failed in its bid for an urgent interdict against the protesters.

Representatives of seven community forums, including people in the Tubatse-Fetakgomo mining area outside Burgersfort in the mineral-rich Sekhukhune district of Limpopo, have for almost four weeks been protesting and camping at the entrance to the Makgomo Chrome plant near Impala Platinum’s Marula Platinum Mine, in a bid to prevent trucks from loading and transporting chrome from the plant. 

The protesters, who are from four farms adjacent to the mine, are demanding a stake in the plant, which they believe makes millions of rands. So far it’s only members of the recognised forums under Makgomo Chrome who are operating and benefiting.

‘Shot in the foot’

On Thursday, the company put its case to the Polokwane High Court, saying that because of the protest, tons of the material – which is destined to be shipped to China – is piling up inside the plant.

However, Judge George Phathudi was unmoved.

Makgomo Chrome wanted the court to interdict the protesters from blocking the trucks transporting chrome failed to persuade the court.

Community members from four farms camp outside the chrome plant at Diphale village near the Marula Platinum Mine in a bid to prevent trucks from transporting chrome. (Photo: Supplied)

Makgomo Chrome’s legal representative Van Slabbert told the judge that the company had now begun stockpiling chrome since it could not transport it. As a result of the protest, which started early this month, about 10,000 tonnes of chrome had been waiting to be transported to China.

Van Slabbert told the court that Magomo Chrome and the Marula mine had been trying to engage the protesters for almost 30 days but the matter had deadlocked.

He therefore asked that the court treat the matter on an urgent basis and grant the interdict.

The Polokwane High Court where the civil matter between Makgomo Chrome and some residents was heard on 31 March 2023. (Photo: Supplied)

The respondents in the matter were: Jackson Nyalungu, Bana va Thari business forum, Fetakgomo Tubatse Business Forum, Esrom Phoku, Thoka Moganedi, Thoko Ngwatl and Marul Four Farms Chamber. 

Van Slabbert argued that previously some residents – who are among the respondents – were ordered by another court ruling to stop preventing the transportation of chrome. If they are embarked in this protest now it would mean they were in contempt of court.

The seven respondents were represented by advocates Cornwell Tshavhungwa and Marotlelle Maphutha, who argued that the application lacked the basis to be considered urgent. 

Tshavhungwa said the applicant’s stockpiling of chrome was its own mistake, since it issued a notice to inform the transport company to stop loading and transporting amid a perceived risk of violence.

“They advised the transport logistics trucks to suspend loading and transporting chrome, saying the protest poses danger,” argued Tshavhungwa. 

Women in the Sekhukhune district look for chrome. (Photo: Supplied)

The judge dismissed the application, saying it was not urgent, although the judge noted the company’s concern about financial losses.

He said the protest had been taking place since the beginning of March but the company had waited a long time to approach the court to apply for an urgent interdict. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: The shine dims on South Africa’s chrome as ruthless pirates muscle in on mining operations

Judge Phathudi said that from the court papers it was clear that the company and the parties involved were engaging each other to resolve the matter, and therefore the matter could not be classified as urgent. 

“In fact you have shot yourself in the foot,” he added, ordering the applicant to pay the respondents’ legal costs.

‘Thugs’

Johan Theron, speaking on behalf of Makgomo Chrome and Marula Platinum Mine, described the protesters as “thugs” who wanted to hijack the community beneficiation chrome plant. 

Theron said that the law would take its course and those preventing trucks from loading would be dealt with by the law.

He indicated that if residents wanted shares they would have to buy them.

The residents back in the village, by contrast, were celebrating the court’s decision.

Community spokesperson Esrom Phoku said they would continue to prevent trucks from transporting chrome from the plant. “That chrome belongs to the entire community from the four farms, not only to some individuals.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘This chrome is our only hope’

Chrome and platinum are found in abundance around the Sekhukhune district, where some people find chrome in the backyards of their homesteads and sell it on the black market. 

Women search for chrome in the Sekhukhune district. (Photo: Supplied)

Police in Limpopo often arrest people found digging for minerals and impound their mining equipment.

Protests by residents against a number of mining companies in the district are common. Some demand jobs or contracts in the mines, while others accuse the companies of causing structural defects to their homes during blasting. Some have previously blocked roads to prevent trucks from moving chrome from mines in their villages.

A supplied video clip of residents attempting to block the transportation of chrome.

Two years ago, residents of Mampa village tried to block trucks from leaving the Sefateng Chrome mine. 

Makgomo Chrome has deployed security officers to disperse protesters.

Origins

In 2009, Implats announced the signing of an agreement with a community chrome project called Marula Community Chrome (MCC) and Marula Platinum on the establishment of Makgomo Chrome, “a joint venture established to extract and market the chrome contained in the current UG2 tailings produced by the Marula operation”. 

It continued: “MCC and Marula have the rights to benefit from any chrome beneficiation and Implats has agreed to fund the construction of the chrome processing plant in return for a 30% stake in Makgomo Chrome, leaving MCC and Marula with a 50% and a 20% stake respectively.” 

It added that “the benefits from this business will flow through to six local communities in the Marula area, increasing their self-reliance and enhancing sustainable development”. DM

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