MAC: Mines and Communities

Miner gets a lesson in listening

Published by MAC on 2007-06-30

Miner gets a lesson in listening

Business Day, South Africa

30th June 2007

Angloplat's carefully laid plans for the expansion of PPRust should have included human resources experts, writes CHARLOTTE MATHEWS

THE two villages of the Motlhotlo community perch picturesquely under twin granite outcrops overlooking a massive valley dotted with scrubs and aloes, typical of Limpopo province.

Twenty years ago, the view would have been spectacular. Today the valley is dominated by the sprawling buildings, slime dams and the rock dumps of Anglo Platinum's Potgietersrust Platinum Mines (PPRust).

This is the setting for a lively tale of how the shifting internal politics of the Motlhotlo have enabled them to take advantage of Angloplat's mistakes .

First established in 1992, PPRust is now a major contributor to Angloplat, producing just under 200000oz of refined platinum last year. It is also a major contributor to the entire economy around the town of Mokopane in Limpopo, which was previously dependent on agriculture.

The serenity that lingers over the Motlhotlo villages on a weekday morning belies the dramatic protests against Angloplat three weeks earlier. The only relics of the confrontation are the massive boulders lining the verges, which were used to block the roads and halt Angloplat's plans to remove 10 families to a new site about 5km away. The police were called; rubber bullets were fired and several villagers were injured.

After the intervention of the provincial government, the relocation was halted while negotiations took place.

This would have been the first step in a plan to move the 10000-strong community to new brick houses, schools and creches, with street lighting and stormwater drains, to make way for the mine's R6,3bn PPRust North expansion project. About 10% of the budget is for relocating the villages.

But Angloplat's carefully planned budget and schedule have been shaken by the emergence of a dissident group of villagers, who are being assisted by well-known lawyer and champion of the underdog, Richard Spoor.

Ask five villagers how many people support the different dissidents and you will get five answers, from "many" to "hardly any". One grandmother, Hendrina Motlau, said shrewdly that it was hard to put numbers on it because many people were supporting both positions so they would not lose out on any concessions secured by the dissidents.

Oddly, no one in the villages actually appears to hate Angloplat. They want the mine for the jobs and community benefits it brings. "Nobody questions that they have to move but the question is on what terms," Spoor says.

Negotiations with the communities started in 1998 and at first things appeared to be proceeding smoothly. An unavoidable hitch, according to Angloplat's Eastern limb projects manager Dean Pelser, was the delay caused by the rand collapse in 2002-03.

Angloplat had learnt some lessons from the previous relocation of the Ga-Pila community. The Ga-Pila had moved without protest but emotions ran high when structural problems later emerged with their new houses .

In negotiating with the two villages of the Motlhotlo community, Angloplat set up similar legal structures to those used in the Ga-Pila relocation, called section 21 companies, which hold the surface lease agreements. This worked for the Ga-Pila relocation but has been a disaster at Motlhotlo.

The members of the two section 21 companies were nominated by the Ga-Puka and Ga-Sekhaolelo villagers in 1998. They have never been re-elected.

According to the villagers, there was no election, just people putting forward friends and family. The members were paid a stipend by Angloplat to cover their time and expenses, which worked out to about R300 per member per meeting. Not surprisingly, meetings were being held about 12 times a month.

Some villagers suspect that the section 21 members are corrupt and serving their own interests rather than the community's. But all communication between the community and Angloplat over the relocation is conducted through the section 21 members.

It was impossible to secure satisfactory answers from Angloplat on these two key issues: why Angloplat has not supported a re-election of section 21 members and why it has not reconsidered the wisdom of paying them a stipend. The stipend makes them look like Angloplat employees, not community representatives.

The terms of the relocation are "like-for-like". Although this is a poor community, with high unemployment, it includes some houses that would not appear out of place in Boksburg.

In addition to the new houses, home owners are to be given a "curtain allowance" of R20000, of which R12000 will be paid up-front and the final R8000 when the last villager moves - clearly an attempt to get the community to exert pressure on any ditherers.

Arable and grazing land will be replaced by new land. The quality and location of this land, as well as compensatory payments, are more points of grievance.

Also, about 2500 graves are being relocated.

Originally, Angloplat agreed to pay R1500 towards the cost of each family's "wake" on the relocation of their graves, whether the family had one grave or several. This has become an issue, too, and Angloplat has now agreed to pay R1500 per grave.

One of the Angloplat managers expressed some distaste at the greed evinced over the grave relocation money, which was supposed to help villagers mark their respect for their ancestors, not become a source of profits.

A visit to the villages and discussions with old and young members indicate divergent views within the community.

On the one hand, there are those who feel the section 21 companies negotiated with Angloplat in good faith and the villagers must honour their agreement.

On the other hand are those who feel Angloplat can afford, and should be paying, more.

The second group includes David Moselakgomo, who heads the dissident group called the Democratic Committee, as well as Jacob Molekoa and Paul Thobane.

The Democratic Committee held an election earlier this year which was supported by about 450 voters from the villages, but it has not been recognised by Angloplat .

Limpopo premier Sello Moloto has, however, insisted the committee be included in negotiations to find a solution to resume the relocation process.

Moselakgomo says some of his group want a payment of R2000 per grave and a curtaining allowance of R35000. "But the most important issue is for the community to have ownership of the mine," he says.

Asked what stake would be acceptable, he says perhaps as much as 10%, "but as long as we have something".

Thobane and Molekoa say the community deserves a 26% share of the mine, which would be worth about R600m.

The moral of this tale is not that Angloplat should have been more generous, although the Motlhotlo's demands might appear to be about money.

In fact, they are asking for respect and communication. In democratic SA, each Motlhotlo resident is equal in status to Angloplat CE Ralph Havenstein. Every individual's agreement to move will help this mine to increase its profits.

Angloplat has assigned a conscientious team of engineers and lawyers to this project, but no human resources specialists.

In its carefully thought-out plans, it has unintentionally overlooked the crucial element of human dignity.


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