MAC: Mines and Communities

South Africa Update

Published by MAC on 2006-11-28

South Africa Update

28th November 2006

Earlier this year we ran an exclusive story depicting the struggle by members of the Maandagshoek community in Mpumalanga province, South Africa, to reclaim land allegedly stolen from them by Anglo American/Anglo Platinum. [see]

Now another community in neighbouring Limpopo province has occupied its own territory in defiance of the same company.

BHPBilliton is on the block, accused of failing to pay compensation for deadly manganese poissoning of workers at its Metalloys plant, south of Johannesburg


Jubilee South Africa, National Office, PRESS STATEMENT

28th Novemebr 2006

Mapela, Limpopo Province (near Mokopane)

A convoy of approximately 23 vehicles carrying police, private security, and PPL mine representatives drove through the villages of Mapela on Monday, 27 November. This convoy is a response to the communities' occupation of their own land which began on Thursday, 23 November. Anglo-Platinum's PPL mine management stopped them from plowing in 2002, taking away their livelihoods - they had lived off harvests from their land for generations.

Anglo-Platinum took away this land for its open-caste mining operation, which includes huge waste rock dumps. The communities are in the process of filing a civil case in the High Court to reclaim the land that is rightfully theirs. After repeated formal, written requests to get Anglo-Platinum and PPL Mine Management to speak to them, and after giving notice to the mine that they would plow their land, the communities rode their tractors onto their plowing fields this past Thursday (23 November), with the support of Jubilee South Africa, the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (Gauteng), and Sounds of Edutainment.

On Friday (24 November), community members in Mohlohlo and Ga-Chaba began noticing increased police patrols, especially at times when they would enter their land to plow. The community asked why they increased patrols, but the police said it was an ordinary patrol. On Monday, the convoy estimated at 23 cars carrying police (including the Crime Intelligence Unit and at least 2 dog units), PPL mine private security, and mine employees rode through the areas of Ga-Chaba and Mohlohlo. Before the convoy entered Mohlohlo, residents could see the stream of cars stopped on the road into the village, a dirt road with huge barbed wire fences put up by the mine to keep people off their own #land. Residents estimated about 50 patrol cars (private and public) were in the area throughout the day, with several hundred officers and mine employees in the patrols.

Residents approached the convoy to ask them why they are coming into their villages. The people in the convoy refused to talk to the community leaders, the communities' attorneys, and even a journalist who was touring the areas with one of the community leaders.

On Monday evening the police were on heavy patrol, telling communities they are 'just doing their jobs' and 'they were not going to arrest or harass anyone.' The communities are outraged at these types of intimidation tactics and are reminded of the days of apartheid with heavily armed convoys of police patrols. Community leaders stated, "We want the Minister of Safety and Security to respond to this. We want to know, are these the mine's police, or the people's police?"

The communities are not deterred; they continue plowing today, with more and more crop field owners and families joining in. A meeting of the entire Mapela area is planned for Wednesday. The communities welcome and encourage the media to come to see for themselves what is happening and the struggles they face at the hands of Anglo-Platinum's ruthless, profit-making, exploitative tactics.

For more information, please contact: Steven Rabalao (Ga-Chaba) 076 886 5079, Phillipos Dolo (Ga-Molekane) 084 023 6237, Paul Thabane (Mohlohlo) 072 586 0255, Brand Nthako (Jubilee South Africa) 082 628 1362 or Anne Mayher 082 398 6882

Lawyer pursues BHP Billiton over 'living death' poisoning

By Abigail Townsend and Mark Hollingsworth

The Independent on Sunday

26th November 2006

FTSE 100 giant BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, has become embroiled in a row over compensation for workers suffering from manganese poisoning, a crippling condition similar to Parkinson's disease.

The dispute is centred on a South African plant run by BHP subsidiary Samancor Manganese - the Metalloys plant in Meyerton, south of Johannesburg.

Richard Spoor, a lawyer specialising in occupational health and the mining sector, is demanding compensation for six severely ill former workers as well as screening for the entire workforce. "There has been a spate of severe manganese poisoning cases at the Meyerton plant," said Mr Spoor. "I do occupational health and have seen some pretty ugly things but this [condition] is the worst I have seen. It's a living death."

Manganese poisoning is incurable and leaves victims, who also suffer seizures, unable to work. But Mr Spoor said that BHP had not paid compensation to the former workers. Instead they had been left to claim benefits from the Workmen's Compensation Scheme, a state-backed fund.

He said that the maximum payment people were entitled to from the scheme was 11,000 rand (£798) per month, and that the workers he was representing were "getting nothing close to that. The drugs [needed to control the condition] cost more than the [monthly] pension".

Mr Spoor is planning further meetings with BHP management, but will also involve trade unions in the campaign. It is thought that legal action against BHP has not been ruled out.

A UK-based spokesman for BHP said he could not comment on the individual cases. But he added: "Samancor Manganese takes the health and safety of its employees extremely seriously and is always looking for ways to increase levels of safety.

"The company has made substantial capital investments in order to reduce the exposure of its employees to manganese. These include dust extraction systems at its Metalloys plant. In addition, all workers are required to wear personal protection equipment that complies with the highest international standards."

South Africa has large reserves of manganese, and Metalloys is one of the main producers of manganese alloys.

Earlier this year, BHP hit the headlines when its copper miners in Chile went on strike after claiming their wages, unlike company profits, had not benefited from the surge in global commodity prices.

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