South African community opposes land takeover by Anglo American subsidiary

On 26 November 2010 the North Gauteng High Court in South Africa was due to hear an urgent application by members of the Sekuruwe Community for an interdict to stop Anglo American subsidiary Anglo Platinum’s PPL Mine near Mokopane in the Limpopo Province from dumping mine waste and continuing with the construction of a tailings dam on the farm Blinkwater.

But at the last minute the company forced a postponement and the case will now not be heard until 2 March 2011, allowing Anglo Platinum to continue dumping its waste into the tailings dam on the land that the Sekuruwe community never gave proper consent for them to use.

The Sekuruwe community and other villages around Angloplat’s PPL mine are disappointed and angry at these delay tactics, and say they will not be taking this lying down.
 
According to Jubilee South Africa, the background to the matter is as follows:

Following an unsuccessful application in January 2009, by the community to interdict the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform (“the Minister”) from leasing a large portion of the farm Blinkwater to Potgietersrust Platinums Limited (PPL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Anglo Platinum Ltd, the community filed a review application in the North Gauteng High Court to set aside the lease.  That matter will be heard in early 2011.

Since the grant of the disputed lease, PPL has undertaken the construction of a tailings dam on Blinkwater where it intends to dump hundreds of millions of tons of mine waste over the next 70 years. In about October this year PPL began with the dumping of waste.

Blinkwater is occupied by the members of the Sekuruwe community. Sekuruwe is a village near Mokopane in the Limpopo province. Many community members depend for their subsistence on farming activities on Blinkwater.  The establishment of the tailings dam on Blinkwater will rob the community of more than half of their land including all the arable land on Blinkwater. The land will be permanently sterilized for any purposes. This will cause hardship and hunger and will totally disrupt the community’s traditional way of life. 

The Minister awarded PPL the lease against the wishes of the community and without ever consulting with it. She relied on a “community land rights resolution” taken at a meeting convened by the mine and its proxy, the Sekuruwe section 21 company, where a small and unrepresentative minority ostensible agreed to lease the land to the mine. The proposed lease agreement itself was not made available to the community for consideration.

The lease provides for an annual rental of R194 169,16 per annum was based upon an agricultural valuation and was not the product of an arms length negotiation between the parties.

The establishment of the tailings dam is part of a R4.5 billion expansion project that will produce 450 000 ounces of platinum per annum worth some R5.3 billion. It is the largest open cast platinum mine in the world. The mine will produce some 70 million tons of waste rock and tailings per annum.  The communities upon whose land the mine will occur, have no financial interest in the mine despite the fact that almost 15 000 villagers have been relocated to make way for mining operations and thousands more, including the members of the Sekuruwe community have been displaced from their farm lands. 

Since the lease was granted, PPL has fenced off the land, constructed the larger part of the tailings dam, exhumed community members’ graves, and paid some compensation to some farmers on a take it or leave it basis. The members of the Sekuruwe community have since been denied access to the fenced in land.

The tailings dam which is built in close proximity to the Sekuruwe village has a footprint of approximately 280 ha, a capacity of one million tons of tailings per month, and will amount to a height of 60 meters. By now 1.8 million tons of tailings have been pumped into the dam. 

Community members are concerned about the loss of farming land, potential health hazards associated with the tailings dam and the pollution of ground water resources.

The mine maintains that it has been authorised to construct the dam and to dump mine waste on Blinkwater by virtue of an Amendment to its Environmental Management Plan (“EMP”) which was approved by the Department of Mineral Resources in 2003.

The applicants maintain that the dam and the dumping of tailings on Blinkwater is illegal in that:
· No Environmental Impact Assessment was carried out and no environmental authorisation was granted in terms of the national Environmental management Act (“NEMA”) and
· That Blinkwater does not fall within the area in respect of which PPL has mining rights and as such the Minister of Mineral Resources has no jurisdiction to authorise mining activities that include the construction of tailings dams and the dumping of mine waste upon it.

In the application (case No. 56012/10) the applicants seek an order interdicting the dumping of waste on Blinkwater pending the grant of environmental authorisation ito NEMA alternatively the determination of the application for the review and setting aside of the lease.

The Sekuruwe community and their neighbors have been in the news of late.  In the face of a wide-spread public outrage, Anglo Platinum was compelled to apologize to the community for removing their graves without due regard to traditional custom or procedure and without the permission of the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). 

The relocations of some 10 000 residents of the neighbouring villages of Ga-Puka and Ga-Sekhaolel was criticized by the South African Human Rights Commission. Subsequent investigations and reports by international NGO, Action Aid, and ERM, the consultants appointed by Anglo Platinum, to review the relocations, confirmed that the relocations were not carried out in conformity with internationally accepted norms and standards.

The unrepresentative section 21 companies established by Anglo Platinum to represent the Sekuruwe and other communities have also come under fire.  The Minister for Mineral Resources pledged that these structures would be replaced.  The legal advisor to these companies, Advocate Seth Nthai SC, has since also been disbarred.

The outcome of the proceedings has significant implications for the Sekuruwe community and the mine. If the application is successful the mine will be obliged to undertake a fresh round of consultation with the Sekuruwe community and other interested parties to address their interests and concerns around the construction of the tailings dam on their land. On its part the PPL mine will be prevented from continuing to dump tailings on the land, which according to the mine will occasion it substantial economic loss.
South African Human Rights Commission, Mining-related observations and recommendations: Anglo Platinum, affected communities and other stakeholders, in and around the PPL Mine, Limpopo, November 2008

Press:
New allegations against tainted advocate surface – The Star, published: 10 February 2010 (http://www.security.co.za/fullStory.asp?NewsId=15174)

Mining giant faces local protest – The Star, published: 27 October 2010
(http://www.thestar.co.za/index.php?fArticleId=5703525)

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