The once beautiful and tranquil village now lies in ruin, deflowered by heartless mining magnates

Tommy Makoe

Bapong village is dying a slow death. The village is a victim of the local platinum mines, which ravage the area and ship off its wealth to be enjoyed elsewhere.

The devastation is visible everywhere in this tiny settlement outside Brits in the North West. Ironically, even in the dismal days of apartheid, Bapong was a beautiful, tranquil refuge amid the surrounding insanity.

Now clouds of sickening grey dust swirl off the mine dumps that dot the area and descend on humans, animals and plants in a fine shroud that chokes the life out of everything. And our politicians tell us proudly that this is development.

Green trees and colourful wild flowers are reduced to a uniform pallid shadow that mocks the memories of a rural past.

Lumbering mine trucks roam Bapong's untarred roads, belching diesel fumes and churning up dust in a constant reminder of the new order in these parts.

The streams that once bubbled through the area have been sucked dry and polluted. Choruses of birdsong and amphibian croaks from the childhood era are now reduced to a few discordant chirps from the few lingering survivors.

The Bapo people's orchards and vegetable patches are also smothered and dying.

Even my great-grandparents' graves must now share their peace with the noisy and destructive mines. The spiritual, traditional and religious values of the graveyard have been reduced to cheap memorabilia by business gone mad.

Constant blasting from deep below the weakened village has robbed Bapong of all the tranquility that once marked its existence. Now the villagers hear rumours that their settlement will cave in once the miners leave, having sucked out the area's wealth and beauty and after destroying its social structures and environment.

These are minor distractions for the multibillion-rand mines, which will bequeath nothing to the moribund village but filth, TB, respiratory ailments, natural disasters, a destroyed environment and a ruined populace.

Thirteen years into democracy and our government sells us out with impunity, trading our constitutionally protected rights to a clean and healthy environment for payouts to its BEE cronies and the empty promise of jobs and development.

Bapong and its people are sacrificed, and ecosystems throughout the area are devastated forever. Our obsequious officials treat the mining magnates with kid gloves, knowing well that they trample on human rights and shatter the natural and social environment.

Governmentpuppets lie without conscience as they tout the party line, saying the platinum mines benefit this poor community. The benefits, they say, far outweigh the permanent harm to the environment and the residents' living conditions.

How would they know? Why should they care? The politicians and their senior officials shelter in faraway luxurious houses to enjoy the proceeds of their greed.

But the latest in a string of studies supposed to prove these benefits once again gave lie to these claims.

The Bech Marks Foundation for Southern Africa for Corporate Social Responsibility released its results last month, which again confirmed that the mines are trashing the natural and cultural environment in the North West.

Anglo Platinum, Implats, Lonplats and Xstrata all boast so-called social responsibility programmes, "but these do not address the impact of the mining on communities", it found - as if we did not know.

The report shows that 80 percent of residents from communities torn apart by the mines, report respiratory problems and 60 percent are infected with HIV.

Not even apartheid wreaked such devastation.

Mines consume millions of cubic metres of underground water each year, and still filch what remains of surface waters.

The report enumerates the cost in land degradation, erosion and the destruction of vegetation.

Global warming will compound the problems and bring on drought, but the mines' decades of profligate use and contamination of water will affect any survivors in this region forever.

Our waters will be poisoned long after the mansions of the BEE sell-outs have crumbled to dust.

As a city boy, I would relish the beauty and the wildlife when I visited my family's ancestral home in the village.

I was fascinated by the baboons that blocked the roads and the thousands of antelopes grazing and browsing around the leafy Bapong.

In the morning, a cool breeze and the chirping of birds would awaken me. The smell of fresh dung and the sounds of the bellowing bulls would remind me I was home, home in Bapong, far from the crime-ridden hustle and bustle of Soweto.

First thing in the morning, I would fetch water from the communal tap. The boy from Jozi would be the talk of the village.

Next would be the kraal, where I sucked milk directly from a cow's teats like my country cousins.

But all that is gone and my grandchildren will never enjoy these experiences. The environment has been poisoned forever, and Bapong village, like many others, will be killed by the mining boom.

The mines have already shattered social structures. Kgosi Bob Mogale and all Bapong's traditions have been sucked dry.

From the third grade, youths binge on alcohol plied by taverns mushrooming in the area. Crime has soared and the impoverished young girls sell their nubile bodies to sex-starved mineworkers.

Rickety facilities crumble under the onslaught of migrants drawn from elsewhere in the often forlorn hope of finding jobs in the mines. As at all mines throughout South Africa, the magnates prefer compliant outsiders to local folks, who they fear might be persuaded to strike against the unhealthy conditions and meagre salary.

Dismal informal settlements with no electricity, sewerage or running water sprout everywhere. The impoverished residents of squatter camps relieve themselves in plastic bags and dump their solid waste every where. Folks joke that these plastic bags are our new flowers.

Backyard shacks blight almost every home as dirt-poor residents try to cash in on a boom that's passing them by.

Yet another violent protest against the non-existent delivery of promised services will soon hit Bapong.

As usual, the government will be blamed while its sheltered partners in crime, the mining bosses, smile all the way to the banks, sniffing haughtily as the natives get restless.

The poor rural blacks will again bear the costs of social, economic and political instability. The rich, old and new, are separated from these uncomfortable scenes by the lush mountains between Bapong and the rich Hartebeespoort area.

The only time they catch a glimpse of their poor neighbours is when they drive past Bapong in the comfort of their 4x4s and German sedans on their way to fritter away their wealth in Sun City.

Here in Bapong, a family would survive for a week on less than what any one of them spends on an hour of entertainment.