Home News School ground clean-up on hold after soil removal row

School ground clean-up on hold after soil removal row

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The clean-up operation in Progress Primary School’s backyard has been put on hold since community members stopped the service provider from removing large quantities of soil last week.

The piece of land between the Florianville Swimming Pool and Progress Primary School. Picture: Soraya Crowie

THE CLEAN-UP operation in Progress Primary School’s backyard has been put on hold since community members stopped the service provider from removing large quantities of soil last week.

The community has accused the service provider of illicitly extracting diamond-rich soil from the school’s premises under false pretences. Their suspicion is that the soil would be processed elsewhere for personal gain.

In light of these events, the community is now demanding transparency. They seek a clear and comprehensive explanation regarding how both the school and the community stand to benefit from this soil removal process.

By the time the community stepped in on Tuesday last week, three truckloads of soil had already been removed and an excavator was at work on the ground.

Community members questioned why the contractor was digging up the diamond-bearing ground instead of using a grader to clean and level the soil.

Police on the scene stated that they were deployed with the understanding that they were protecting the company as part of Operation Vala Umgodi.

The dispute led to a delegation consisting of artisanal miners, the police, the service provider and ward councillor George Joseph seeking answers from the school about the agreement.

It emerged that the school was unaware of the excavation taking place in their backyard, believing that the land was being cleaned for a sports field.

Joseph confirmed that the service provider was permitted on the school premises after the school sought assistance from the National Lottery Fund (Lotto) to build a sports field.

The service provider was appointed by Lotto to prepare the backyard for the project. However, the school had no agreement with the provider regarding its operations and was unaware of the extraction of diamond-rich soil.

“The school did not have any agreement with the service provider … The school also clarified that it was not aware that diamond-rich soil was being extracted from the school. Eyebrows were raised when community members realised that soil was being transported from the diamond-rich area,” said Joseph.

A community representative, Martin le Grange, stated that a formal meeting was held on Wednesday in the presence of the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), where it was agreed that the clean-up project should be put on hold.

Le Grange said that the DMR confirmed that the service provider had no permit to excavate private property and remove diamond-rich soil.

“All parties agreed that work should be stopped until a contract is drawn up that stipulates the social compact of the removal of the soil,” said Le Grange.

“If that diamond-rich soil is to be removed from our community, we need to agree on what the community stands to benefit from it.”

Le Grange added that the contents of the contract would be revealed within two weeks.

He explained that the community was concerned because artisanal miners had been prevented from mining the same spot in 2022.

“They cannot be blamed for demanding answers after they were denied the right to mine on the rich soil, and then they suddenly see the soil being taken away.”

The Northern Cape Department of Education confirmed on Monday that an agreement was reached that no mining activities should take place on the school premises, as it is private property.

Department spokesperson Geoffrey van der Merwe stated that the community had pledged not to obstruct the school’s development.

“An agreement was reached for the service provider to continue with the scraping process and to drive the soil away because there is no space on the school premises to leave the soil there. The DMR will give the necessary permit for this process to continue.

“The DMR will also draw up a contract for all relevant parties to sign – viz the service provider, the community forum, Operation Vala Umgodi and the school, with the department’s approval,” said Van der Merwe.

He added that the soil handling process would be closely monitored to ensure that any revenue generated from soil washing be awarded to the beneficiaries, with the school being the primary beneficiary.

“Once the process has been completed, the DMR should provide a declaration that all mineral-rich soil has been removed from the premises.

“Should any illegal mining activities take place on the school premises, the guilty parties will be arrested,” Van der Merwe warned.

Furthermore, he emphasised that all school-related activities should be suspended until the contract process, expected to conclude within two weeks, is finalised.

“We are hopeful that the process of illegal mining on the school premises will eventually come to an end once the mineral-rich soil has been removed.”

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