MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Anglo Platinum ordered to return mining land to Ga Mawela community

Published by MAC on 2006-07-27

Anglo Platinum ordered to return mining land to Ga Mawela community

Creamer Media's Engineering News Online

27th July 2006

The Randburg Land Claims Court had ordered Anglo Platinum to return ancestral land in the Limpopo province to the Ga Mawela community, spokespersons for the Ga Mawela said in a media release on Wednesday. The court order brought to a close a five-year dispute between the Ga Mawela and Anglo Platinum and its subsidiary Rustenburg Platinum Mines (RPM), the release said. Anglo Platinum could not be reached for comment on Wednesday and Mining Weekly Online left several messages for the company's spokesperson. The Ga Mawela spokespersons said in the release that the court had ordered the Department of Land Affairs to purchase the land from RPM, if possible by agreement, but otherwise by expropriation, and pass it on to the community.

Ga Mawela legal representative Durkje Gilfillan was quoted in the release as saying that, although the court order was not a precedent in the strict legal sense, the case had set a precedent for the mining sector, under which a mining company would be obliged to manage its mineral rights and mining interests in a manner that did not conflict with the rights and interests of other land users. She was quoted further as saying further that the outcome of the case would ensure a "balance of rights and interests" for the benefit of both parties, which did not exist under previous mining legislation. The release said that the Legal Resources Centre in Johannesburg had represented Ga Mawela from the time matter had first been filed in the land claims court in 2001. The Ga Mawela community, it said, had won the first stage of a court battle, which involved proving the legal validity of its land claim in terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Act, 2004.

The land restitution process had been part of the national land reform programme aimed at redressing past racial measures that had dispossessed black communities of their ancestral lands, which had formed a key element in the "process of subjugation" of indigenous communities. The community, the release said, had been known in earlier times for its rainmaking, farming and herbalist skills and said the court had been told that the community wished to protect several sites of sacred importance to it, including pools and caves, some of which remained secret. These were located on the farm St George. The community had in 1998 lodged a claim on the platinum and water-rich St George farm, which was situated near the mining town of Steelpoort in Limpopo, which had been published in the Government Gazette of May 2000. It then took the "unprecedented" step of prosecuting its claim. It brought a "direct access" application to the Land Claims Court without assistance from the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, the release said.

The community had since that time been involved in the case with RPM, which, the release said, had been mandated to acquire property for Anglo Platinum's mining operations. RPM was said to have purchased St George after the land claims commission had validated the land claim and had proceeded to oppose the claim in court. Ga Mawela land claims committee secretary Tiny Mankge was quoted in the release as wondering whether Anglo Platinum would ever apologise to the community for subjecting its leadership to the indignity of interrogation in court by a former advocate of apartheid forced removals - and by implication past racist policies. "It can never be in the best interests of shareholders to oppose measures to address past racial actions by the apartheid state. The whole episode was highly offensive," she was quoted as saying.

Gilfillan added that the claim was about restoring the rights of a former labour tenant community that had been dispossessed of their land under apartheid. The case, she said, would also set a precedent for communities claiming land owned by mining companies. The community had lodged a 1 800 page technical submission to prove to the court that it was economically feasible to develop the farm. The community stated in its submission that there were no mining, environmental or other factors which would make its plans for agricultural and residential use of the land hazardous or impractical.

In the community submission before the court, Ga Mawela Land Claims Committee chairperson Mabutswe Lazarus Mankge reportedly stated that unemployment was a "very serious" issue for the Sekhukhune district, and currently stood at 69%, far more than the provincial average of 49%. This represented the lowest percentage of people in employment in all districts in both Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, he is quoted as saying. He said that the St George farm would make a significant contribution to household food security, and provide for extra income through the sale of surplus produce in local markets and further afield, in the longer term.

A household survey conducted among the community showed that 77% of the claimants depended on some form of social grant from government; 11% of the claimants were in formal employment; and 12% self-employed. He said that, given that 66% of the income received from government grants was spent on buying food, it was hoped that an improvement in the socio-economic status of the members of the community would allow more children to complete their formal schooling and, therefore, become eligible for jobs in the mining, tourism and related sectors. Mining Weekly Online reported this month that Anglo Platinum had wanted to build the Richmond dam on the land owned by the community to provide water to its water-short operations on the eastern limb of the Bushveld Complex.

With the claims court ceding ownership of the land to the Ga Mawela community, it would now have to negotiate with the community, which was reportedly against its building on the grounds that sacred pools would be flooded as a result of its construction.

In an exclusive interview with Mining Weekly Online Mankge said that the Department of Land Affairs expropriation process should take about six months.

"This is a test case and the first case of labour tenants having expropriated land restored to them," Mankge said.

She claimed that Anglo Platinium had not consulted the community on matters that involved the land surface and had begun digging culverts in the river and drilling out canals that led to retaining dams.

She said that the furrows, developed in the 1800s, were still in working condition.

The community would have to repair the furrows and would ask Anglo Platinum to replace the irrigation equipment it had removed from the land.

"Although Anglo Platinum has the mineral rights to the property and are involved in underground mining, I don't understand why they were holding on to the surface land," she said, adding that Anglo Platinium's entry to its underground mine was through adjacent land.

Manke pointed out that, aside from losing shareholders money, Anglo Platinum could have spent the money it had used to fight the case against them on corporate social investment.

She added that the Land Claims commission would provide the community with technical advice and financial resources for it to develop agricultural and livestock plans.

The community planned to grow crops and farm livestock and was keen to work the land as soon as possible.

There has been a commitment from the Department of Agriculture to assist in setting up a cooperative for commercial goat farming and in assisting with agricultural marketing activities.

She claimed that Anglo Platinum planned to sink two ventilation shafts on the property around 2035.

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