David van Wyk, a researcher for the Bench Marks Foundation, travels to a small village called Chaneng on the North West platinum belt to uncover that community’s history. He also discovers a collusion that’s dogged these people for decades.
Chaneng is a village where the BaPhiring people live. To reach this village you travel along the Sun City Road until you enter Boschhoek; at the three-way stop you turn right. You cross the Boschoek station rail crossing with the Platinum smelting plant on your left and continue to drive straight through Rasimone until you reach Chaneng.
The Boschhoek rail crossing is where buses and taxis transporting workers and community members meet and cross paths – with dire consequences at times. Despite platinum mining happening in the Bojanala District since the 1930s, there are very few railway safety booms or bridges to prevent ore carrying trains that belong to the mining companies, and taxis and busses from becoming entangled in fatal crashes.
Boshoek smelter belongs to Xstrata, which has a 25% shareholding in Lonmin. Xstrata itself was taken over by Glencore this year. The people of Chaneng could not care less about the rapacious greed and machinations of corporate takeovers – instead they suffer the air pollution of the smelter increasing the risk of respiratory problems in the community.
The BaPhiring clan’s totem animal is the Hyena or Phiri. The clan can be found in the villages of Chaneng, Robega, Mafenya, and Rasimone.
In pre-colonial times the people farmed with cattle and sorghum and smelted iron with which they manufactured tools and weapons. The lives of the Baphiring and other clans of the Tswana tribe were disrupted first by Mzilikazi sweeping through the area with the Ndebele people and later by the Boers who declared the Transvaal Republic.
Mzilikazi forced the BaPhiring to supply him with regiments for the Battle of Vegkop, in which the Ndebele king lost the cream of his regiments, but the Boers were left stranded without any cattle – a stalemate if ever there was one. Mzilikazi left the area eventually leaving the Boers in control.
The Transvaal Republic exacted taxes and labour from the Tswana people, including the Baphiring. Settler farmers also began encroaching on BaKwena land. The BaKwena, of which the Baphiring is a sub-clan, used the Lutheran missionaries in the area to retain control over their land. The tribes asked the Lutherans to buy the land as farms so as to prevent the land from falling under Boer ownership.
In the 1930s Hans Merensky discovered platinum in the district. By 1968 the smog and exhaust pollution crisis hit American cities and General Motors entered into an agreement with Impala Platinum to buy all the platinum it could produce for the manufacture of catalytic converters to reduce the pollutants from car exhaust emissions in American cities.
Emission control legislation soon followed throughout the industrial world. Clean air in the industrialised North translated into dirty air in Bojanala District, people in the developing South paying the price for the privileges of people in the industrialised North.
The Bench Marks Foundation asked me to do research on the mines in the Bojanala District in 2006, and Chaneng was one of the villages that fell within the parameters of that research. The resulted in Policy Gap 1, published in 2007. By the time Policy Gap 1 was published in August 2007 Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) had already suffered nine fatalities, and would end the year on 25 deaths due to accidents.
Within a week of publication Amplats’ shares fell by 5% and soon Ralph Havenstein was replaced as CEO. We at Bench Marks had high hopes that Cynthia Carroll’s appointment would herald dramatic improvements at Anglo American, but now we sadly agree that not much has improved.
The Bench Marks Foundation went back to the Platinum Belt in 2011/2012 to see if anything had improved in Bojanala District since the publication of Policy Gap 1. The resultant Policy Gap 6 was published and launched at the offices of the Human Rights Commission on 14 August 2012.
Two days later 34 Lonmin Miners lay dead among the scattered rocks of Wonderkop. In 2012 the annual strike wave that sweeps through Bojanala district from west to east and back west again ended in a massacre. But it is not only mineworkers who confront the mining corporations. Communities also wage regular battles with the mining corporations and the police. So the community of Marikana barricaded the roads leading to Lonmin’s operations in May 2011, bringing operations to a standstill, demanding that management speak to them.
The demands of the people of the Marikana community? Simply that Lonmin fulfil the promises made to them – promises of jobs, promises of infrastructure development, together with promises of local procurement, promises of environmental responsibility.
Communities in Ikemeleng informal settlement followed suit, bringing Aquarius to a standstill, and by November 2012 the community of Chaneng brought Styldrift (a new operation belonging to Royal Bafokeng) to a standstill. The people of Chaneng demanded to know why Styldrift was started on their land without consulting the community. They demanded 27% local employment in the mine. They demanded reparations for cracked housing as a result of blasting and the desecration of their ancestral graves by prospecting teams and their rigs.
I visited Chaneng on Saturday 18 May and Sunday 19 May 2013, and engaged with the Bench Marks Monitors and community members. I listened to their frustrations at the cynical response of the mining corporations to their complaints about cracked housing, polluted air and water, and the high levels of local unemployment.
I witnessed a fight between members of the community and a Somali shopkeeper – a customer accused the shopkeeper of selling redundant airtime vouchers. I saw a Lutheran church congregation protest against the local priest for being corrupt and stealing their money. We had lunch at the Chaneng Restaurant a local ‘Chiza Nyama’ after buying meat and pap and ice cold beer.
During lunch I was informed of how mine management abused local labour to discourage local employment of workers sending young people for irrelevant training courses, then deploying them into unrelated work positions and continuing to pay them only stipends long after the training course stopped.
Or they would not be employed as permanent workers but as sub-contracted labour, whereas the permanent positions are reserved for ‘foreigners’/migrant workers – and this in a mine where the majority shareholder is the traditional authority, the Royal Bafokeng; it is claimed that the ordinary tribe members such as the people of Chaneng, Rasimone, Phokeng and Luka are shareholders. Locals cannot get jobs in mines that theoretically belong to them!
The female monitors raised issues of workplace harassment for women workers. They described the impact of sex-work and HIV/Aids on their community as a direct result of the migrant labour system, the respiratory problems suffered by children as a result of the dust and the emissions from the smelter.
All complained of the lack of jobs, the poverty despite the wealth of platinum under their land. The biggest concern for all is the collusion between their traditional authorities and the mining corporations, between the local government and the mining corporations, between the politicians and the mining corporations.
As ordinary people and as a community they have no recourse – those who are supposed to be impartial arbiters or the referees are now playing for the corporations – the match is fixed. DM
David van Wyk is a freelance researcher who only works for progressive civil society organisations and movements all over Central and Southern Africa. Find more of Van Wyk’s writing at http://periodiccomposition.wordpress.com/
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