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Northern Cape community, mine contractors clash

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“The government prioritised a turnaround strategy to boost production and create 400 jobs.”

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AN APPEAL has been made to government to urgently intervene in the violence that has erupted in the Richtersveld over the last two weeks.

Explaining the background, Christopher Rutledge, natural resources manager of ActionAid South Africa, said yesterday that the communities of Kuboes, Sandrift, Eksteenfontein and Lekkersing received 84 000ha of diamond-rich land, a mine, farms and R190 million in reparations, in one of the country’s largest land claims, 11 years ago.

“Despite this historical land claim, the number of jobs at the Richtersveld Mining Company – a joint venture with state-owned Alexkor – fell from 1 500 to 106. Production dipped from 200 000 carats of diamonds a year to 35 000, and farms that previously turned over R5 million a year lay barren.”

Rutledge stated further that in 2013, after interventions by government, the community was given new hope that they would eventually be able to work their way out of the debilitating poverty “which has been a hallmark of their existence since their land was first violently expropriated from them by the apartheid state”.

“The government prioritised a turnaround strategy to boost production and create 400 jobs.”

He added that according to the then Deputy Public Enterprises Minister, Bulelani Magwanishe, in 2013, a R50 million investment had been approved, farming was to be revitalised, creating 34 jobs, and the area’s roads would be improved.

“Recently, community members started mining some of the areas, which according to the land claim belongs to the community, but which is currently being mined by contractors appointed by the mine,” Rutledge said.

“When community members were denied access to the mine sites by security officials of the contractors, the community decided to march to the offices of the contractors to demand inclusive employment and opportunity to mine the area. As the community protested their exclusion, security guards and some farmers opened fire on the community wounding several people and property was damaged in the process.”

Rutledge stated that the community retaliated and skirmishes ensued which saw at least one of the mine’s earthmoving excavators damaged.

According to Guido Kotze, one of the community members who participated in the protest, the mine has now cut the community’s access to water and has blocked all access roads into the mine, denying the community access to their own property via public roads.

“We only seek justice and what was promised to us, namely jobs, education and development of our area,” Kotze stated.

Rutledge added that ActionAid South Africa (AASA) has been actively working with artisanal miners across the country to develop a new legislative framework which will accommodate the type of mining the community of Richtersveld have been demanding.

“However, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) has not been open to finding solutions to the growing challenge of artisanal miners in the country.”

He pointed out further that AASA has assisted in brokering a deal between the DMR and the artisanal miners in Kimberly. “The DMR has refused to even acknowledge the many letters and e-mails we have sent to them in which we propose closer collaboration with our research which seeks to develop a legislative framework for artisanal mining in South Africa.”

Rutledge said research on artisanal mining, undertaken by the Wits School of Mining and Engineering, which engaged with thousands of artisanal miners in Kimberly, as well as the east and west rand of Gauteng and in Mpumalanga, and which will be published in 2019, pointed to the valuable role that artisanal miners play in adding real social and economic value to communities where poverty and unemployment are rife.

“Currently the mining legislation in South Africa does not accommodate artisanal miners and only allows for small-scale mining. The needs and challenges of artisanal miners are markedly different to the challenges of small-scale mining and as long as the DMR remains closed to this reality, the scourge of unregulated mining and the resultant social conflict and crime that it attracts, will continue.”

He stated that AASA, together with Mining Affected Communities United in Action and the Northern Cape Artisanal Miners Association, hoped to host an Artisanal Miners Conference in 2019 to consider the need for a national artisanal miners association which can lobby for their inclusion under the mining legislation.

“Until then, we call on government to intervene urgently in the Richtersveld to restore calm and to ensure that the human dignity of the communities of the Richtersveld are not violated.

“We also call on the DMR to urgently open up the debate and process of including artisanal miners in the mining legislation so that their dignity can be restored and so that communities are able to pursue legitimate livelihood strategies without violence and degradation of their dignity.”

The DMR did not respond to questions e-mailed to the department by the time of going to print.