Dirt poor despite untold riches - Bapong have nothing to show for mineral wealth

HARD LIFE: A shack near a Lonmin mineshaft in Bapong, west of Pretoria , where residents are very poor. PHOTO: Thulani Mbele
HARD LIFE: A shack near a Lonmin mineshaft in Bapong, west of Pretoria , where residents are very poor. PHOTO: Thulani Mbele

THERE are mineral riches beneath the soil where Bapong residents live in poverty in tin shacks.

The peri-urban settlement just 60km west of Pretoria doesn't look anything like a place where the world's largest platinum deposits are.

"We walk on minerals under our feet and yet we suffer. There is something wrong with that," said resident Thomas Mabe, 40, who has lived in a shack all his life.

According to the government's mining charter, companies are obliged to contribute financially or otherwise to the needs of the community they operate in. This forms part of their operational licence requirements.

Mining house Lonmin has allegedly paid out millions in mining royalties into an account known as "D-Account," as per the requirements of the charter. The money was supposed to be used to uplift the area.

But a long-running chieftaincy wrangle in the Bapo ba Mogale Tribal Authority and allegations of theft and corruption have brought the disbursement of funds to a complete halt.

An estimated R370-million was deposited into D-Account between 2009 and 2010. The account has allegedly since been depleted because of theft. Public protector Thuli Madonsela's office is investigating the matter.

Madonsela's spokesman Oupa Segalwe said they had not yet ascertained how much was in the account and how much of it was embezzled.

Poor service delivery is evident in Bapong. The roads are not tarred and most of the 40 000 residents communal taps for water and use long-drop toilets. Sportsgrounds and other recreational facilities barely exist.

Numerous boards at many schools proclaim Lonmin as a sponsor. However, its apparent contribution is hardly felt on the ground.

Fifteen pit toilets that serve 432 pupils at Bapo Primary School are nearly full. Lonmin had promised to fix them years ago.

"Lonmin gave us the toilets and some windows for the classrooms in 2006 and we never saw them again. We can't afford to fix the school ourselves," a teacher said.

"The tribal council has not done anything for us since this school was built in 1933. We have no telephone, computers or sportsgrounds."

Bapo ba Mogale tribal council spokesman Vladimir Mogale said the equity deal it signed with Lonmin in July was the only hope towards the upliftment of Bapong. The controversial deal promises Bapo a R600-million share to be paid in annual dividends.

"We have not been able to do much because we don't have money . the deal with Lonmin is our priority right now because it will have immediate positive spin-offs."

But residents such as Mabe are sceptical: "We have lost hope in our government and we are losing faith in our royal house and the mine because they are only making life nice for only themselves."

 

sifilel@sowetan.co.za

 

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