Company builds healthy community relations in area wracked with conflict

REACHING OUT: Chairman of Sebatakgomo Mining Vincent Phaahla with Khoshi Ntobeng Thobejane outside the hose that his company built for the leader of Bapedi ba Tjate in Sekhukhuneland. © 
REACHING OUT: Chairman of Sebatakgomo Mining Vincent Phaahla with Khoshi Ntobeng Thobejane outside the hose that his company built for the leader of Bapedi ba Tjate in Sekhukhuneland. © Sowetan.

Ido Lekota

Ido Lekota

Tjate village in Sekhukhuneland, Limpopo, is a typical rural settlement with no electricity and only a communal pump for water.

The village, about 80km south of Polokwane, is located in a valley between two mountains that form part of the Lebombo range.

Like most rural villages, Tjate does not have a local economy to talk about. Unemployment is high in the area.

But no matter how bad things seem, there is always a silver lining to the clouds.

Explorations have shown that Tjate and several other villages in Sekhukhuneland are situated in a platinum-rich area known as the Eastern Bushveld Platinum Belt.

In terms of the government's new mining legislation, communities such as that in Tjate should benefit from any mining operations undertaken in their areas.

Such benefits could take the form of mining companies employing locals.

The Mining Charter also requires that - in partnership with local communities and the government - mining companies should come up with projects aimed at developing communities in such areas.

Presently there are four mining companies in Ward 8 of the Greater Tubatse municipalities, under which Tjate falls.

The mines include Tjate Platinum Mining, located in Tjate village itself, Anglo Platinum's Twickenham Platinum Mine, Marula Platinum Mine, owned by Impala Platinum, and Maandagshoek, owned by African Rainbow Mining.

Last weekend owners of Tjate Mining handed over a new house they had built for the local leader, Kgoshi Ntobeng Thobejane.

The company is still prospecting in the area while the other mines in the area are already in full operation.

Vincent Phaahla, chairman of Sebatakgomo Mining, the black economic empowerment partner in Tjate Mining, said they had built the house as part of his company's social responsibility projects.

"Thobejane has been living in a two-roomed mud house and we wanted to improve his living conditions in the spirit of the Mining Charter," said Phaahla.

Tjate Mining is also sponsoring agricultural projects run by local women. The company has also sponsored a water-pump supplying water to both the community and the project.

Phaahla said the projects were just the beginning of a relationship they hope to develop with the community.

In consultation with the community, the company has also established the Tjate Community Development Committee, which deals with matters relating to mining in the area.

"We are committed to giving the community a stake in the mine once it is up and running," said Phaahla.

He said his company had also identified four members of the community to send for a short course in mining.

While singing the praises of Tjate Platinum Mining, Ward 8 councillor Reneilwe Pholwane also expressed the community's dissatisfaction with relations between the community and the other mining companies.

"Sebatakgomo has shown its commitment to working with the community from the word go," said Pholwane.

"Unlike the other companies, they have started consulting with us even at this early stage of their mining operations."

She accused the other companies of using what she called "divide-and-rule tactics" of buying off certain individuals who then act against the interests of the community.

"The reality is that these companies are not keen on working with structures that represent the community," she said. "They want to deal with individuals who they can buy off."

Speaking on behalf of Thobejane, royal councillor Moshabane Pholwane said the people of Tjate were happy with what Sebatakgomo Mining and its partners had done for the community.

"Our royal house used to be a two-roomed hovel that we were embarrassed to call moshate [chief's kraal]. Now we welcome our visitors with pride," said Pholwane.

Members of the Tjate Community Development Committee also had only praise for Sebatakgomo Mining.

"We are happy that Sebatakgomo consulted us and worked with us to find out what it was we needed most as a community," said committee member Rosinah Mafolo.

"Now our women have a project where we plant crops for our livelihood. This house has given dignity to our moshate."

It seems the sun will rise for the people if Tjate Platinum Mining goes on to keep the promises it has made to the community.

What remains to be seen is whether in the long run Tjate will not also turn out to be one of several villages currently involved in disputes with mining companies operating in their areas.

As Premier Sello Moloto has pointed out, one of the challenges of mining in Limpopo is that mining operations are on communal trust land.

These are areas where people do not have title deeds and the land belongs to the state.

Even where people had historically bought land, they had never owned the mining rights.

The conundrum is that people feel mining companies are operating on their land and must, therefore, give them a stake in their companies, or compensate them satisfactorily.

This has obviously not been the case given the many disputes in the province.