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When falling rocks crush human rights – Marikana’s Christinah Mdau leads fight for life free of mine blasting

When falling rocks crush human rights – Marikana’s Christinah Mdau leads fight for life free of mine blasting
Christinah Mdau with, from left, Mariah Moleme, Pintli Molalasi, Ditlallo Lehula, Lerato Koloi, Martha Koloi and Peter Selloe. (Photo: Thom Pierce, The Actionists)

Christinah Mdau and fellow residents want a safe life for themselves and their families, away from the air and noise pollution of the mine, away from the rocks falling on the roofs of their houses, and away from the daily intimidation and imposition of blasting.

As we sit in the “community centre”, a rudimentary tin-roofed, open-sided structure, Christinah Mdau tells me that the local mine won’t be blasting today because they know that I am there and that for the time being, I am safe. However, if I had arrived two months earlier it would have been too dangerous, I could have been intimidated, beaten or escorted away by the supporters of the mine. 

Even so, a police vehicle circles us, looking at me as we speak, and a large group of men stand close by but don’t engage.

It has been 13 years since at least 850 homes in Mmaditlhokwa Village in Marikana were relocated so that Tharisa Minerals mining company could exploit the land underneath them. Individuals and families were promised permanent housing, water, electricity and sewerage, but to this day they are still in the shacks built for them as temporary housing back in 2010.

The mine is yet again encroaching on their homes and the blasting that happens almost daily provides a shower of rocks and dust, accompanied by a piercingly loud siren warning them to get inside, or better still move under the “community centre” for protection. The school is now under threat as the area that is being mined has moved closer to its walls. This is no way for anyone to live.

There are people in the community who support the mine, who hope the opportunities will outweigh the risk. Although they were promised jobs, a few short two- to three-month contract jobs are all that have materialised.  

There is strength in numbers, and so Christinah and a local group of concerned residents got together to form an organisation that they have called DEHRVA (Defenders for Environment and Human Rights Violations in Africa). Its sole purpose is to deal with the immediate threat to their livelihoods.

DEHRVA believes the human rights of the community have been violated by the mine and the national government. Through their various programmes, guided by section 24 of the Constitution, they hope to remedy the situation by involving those who they consider to be responsible in redressing the impacts the residents have faced. They include the government and private entities.

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What they want are the promises to be kept that were made to them all those years ago. They want a safe life for themselves and their families, away from the air and noise pollution of the mine, away from the rocks falling on the roofs of their houses, and away from the daily intimidation and imposition of blasting.

But it is more complicated than that. The longer they live in one area, the more connected they are to the land, and the more family members have been buried and rituals have been established. They are not asking for the world, just their basic constitutional rights.

As I sit under the shelter, surrounded by these seven determined Actionists, I can see they are not scared, that they will not be intimidated. As I sit with them I am not scared either. But when I leave on my own, I hurry to get home. DM

It’s Women’s Month in South Africa and so, throughout August, The Actionists will exclusively be featuring stories of inspiring women who are working to make a positive change in the world around them. The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who engage in direct action. They are people anyone can turn to in difficult circumstances: a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa. Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles these people. Through a website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide ways for people to get involved.

Nominate Actionists in your circle at www.theactionists.co.za or email [email protected]

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