People living in communities in mining towns across the country say the government has failed to protect them and is instead allowing mining companies to run the country.
“The mining company and the local municipality make empty promises to the people,” Kleinbooi Mahlangu said in an interview.
“They tell the community they will get employment and skills once the mine starts. But after operation starts, nothing like that happens. They don’t fulfil their promises.”
Mahlangu, who is a member of the Wonderfontein Community Association in Mpumalanga, was speaking on the sidelines of national hearings by the SA Human Rights Commission themed “the socio-economic challenges of mining-affected communities in the country”.
He said the mines operating in the area forced families to relocate to areas which would only make their lives difficult.
“They move people from the place where they get suitable water and electricity to a place that does not have enough water or electricity.”
Mahlangu said he felt the government was not fighting for the rights of its people.
“The mining companies are ruling the country,” he said.
“We have got a Constitution to rule the country, but it seems that Constitution doesn’t have teeth to bite with because the mining companies are ruling the country.
“The government is lazy and it is failing us.”
Bongani Pearce, chairperson of the Mpukunyoni Community Property Association in Mtubatuba, KwaZulu-Natal, said residents in that area were worse off since a coal mine had started operating there nine years ago.
“When the mining company came to our area, they first consulted with the traditional authority which is the first point of entry, which is normal. But now our traditional authority did not consult with the community to get a mandate for the existence of the mine. That is where the problem started.”
After that, the community tried to get the local municipality to get involved but failed to get the desired results. They then approached the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs, that also failed to yield any fruits, he said.
“So what the community did to sort the problems out was to come together for themselves and to use the association as a vehicle to give them a voice to talk about their problems that they are facing regarding the existence of the mine.”
Pearce was at the hearings to represent his community and to give an account of the challenges they face on a daily basis.
Relocation, access to quality water and electricity were some of the main issues they grappled with.
Sustainable farming had also been negatively affected by the condition of the land since the mine began operations, he said.
“On top of that, while the mine is running, we’ve got the issue of cracking houses. Our houses are getting cracked during the blasting. We’ve got a high level of air pollution because of the dust that goes up.
“We have had the fatalities of our livestock, we slaughter a lot of cattle and when you dissect that cattle you find that it is infected inside, on the intestines you find the coal in it.
“It is disastrous what is happening now. We were better off without the mine to live off our agricultural activities but now they came and…took our agricultural land and our grazing space.”
Elizabeth Malibe from Arbor in Mpumalanga said one of the community’s biggest gripes was that neither the mine in her area or the local municipality could provide residents with satisfactory answers.
“They are unable to come together for the sake of the community and tell us who is supposed to develop the area. The mine says the municipality is supposed to handle it, when we ask the municipality, it says the area belongs to the mine, so we get confused. We don’t know who to confront with all our issues.”
She said the mine in the area had been functioning for six years but residents had not seen any benefit to having it there.
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