I attended a breakfast seminar at Hofmeyer House, Wits University on 15 March 2013, hosted by the Society Work and Development Institute at Wits (SWOP).   The speaker was Sonwabile Mnwana of the University of the Witwatersrand.  The question posed in the seminar was one that is of interest to Western Limb: is mining benefitting the communities in Rustenburg?

I found out about it on the day before the event, and stayed an extra night in Joburg to be able to attend it.  I found myself, somewhat to my surprise, on a friends racing bike doing the monthly 25km Jozi Hustle around the CBD that starts at the Hunter Cycling Clubhouse in Braamfontein. The Jozi Hustle involves riders at high speed, running the gamut of potholed streets, missing drain covers and crazy centre town traffic.  Similarly, Mnwana’s talk provided a close up view of parts of the Western Limb most people don’t see.  In the same way that the Jozi Hustle got me connected to the city of Joburg,  Mnwana’s up-close views on the Western Limb provided an insight into some of the areas that need to be addressed to make the Western Limb a better place for everyone to live in.

Mnwana’s work in communities in the Western Limb

Mnwana presented his finding of research in the Bafokeng and BaKgathla ba Kgafela communities, eliciting the views of the communities on infrastructure development plans over a three month period.

The Royal Bafokeng Nation is held up as a model for community participation in mining

Mnwana started his talk by noting that the Bafokeng are held up as a model for community participation in mining.  However, he said that his research showed that there were certain flaws and paradoxes in the Bafokeng model. 

Leaders of traditional communities are empowered to speak for the community

The mode of engagement in the Bafokeng model is between the leaders of traditional communities and the mining communities.  They are legally empowered to speak for and on behalf of traditional communities.

The Communal Land Rights Act gives traditional leaders “elevated and entrenched powers”.   (The proposed Traditional Courts Bill will extend these powers).   They become the “champions of mineral wealth development”.

Mnwana said that after the tragedy at Marikana in August 2012 where 34 mineworkers were shot and killed, many suggested that the Bafokeng model should be emulated in South African mining communities to ensure peace between mining companies and the communities that surround the mines.

A different emphasis – traditional leaders and community members

He found that there was a different emphasis between the traditional leaders and the people in the community.  They have different priorities.  The leadership was focussed on particular long-term infrastructure projects, but the people who live in these communities are more concerned about the very poor quality of housing and of roads, and the influx of people into the area. 

Ho noted that Bakgathla ba Kgafela (a community near Moruleng on the north side of the Pilanesberg National Park) Administration’s spending plans are very focussed on infrastructure.  They have plans to build a water treatment plant, a stadium, shopping mall, and an administration block

Similarly, the Bafokeng (a community based near Phokeng between Rustenburg and the Pilanesberg National Park) have plans for a shopping mall.  He lauds the infrastructure development, but went on to identify one of the key concerns that people in the area express about the type of development is taking place: they feel that they are not consulted on these plans and projects and have no say in how mining revenues the community receives are spent. 

People in the communities feel they are not consulted about projects that take place

Mnwana interviewed a teacher in Moruleng who expressed a concern about traditional leaders sitting in boardrooms and deciding what is best for the community.  He said that the community was never consulted on these projects and they should not assume that this is what the community wants.   

One of the key things he found was that there is tension between villages, because there is differential development in these areas, there are new facilities in some villages but not in others.

Other community-led structures feel they are unable to directly engage with mining companies

Mnwana said that another concern among community members was inaction on the part of local leaders about the environmental impact of mining in communities.  Mnwana says that the mines engage with the traditional leadership, and they do not want to engage directly with members of the community on environmental issues.

Mnwana noted that there are several local forums that have been established to deal with environmental problems caused by mining.  However, Mnwana said that some mining companies have refused to engage with these forums.  He says that some mining companies have stated that they will deal with the leadership of traditional communities on these issues, as they represent the communities.

Mwana said that one mining company representative told him that they do not want to engage with some these forums, because the leaders of some forums represent “narrow, selfish interests”. 

A fear among communities that mining companies “co-opt” traditional leaders

He said that distrust was emerging among people in mine-affected communities regarding the relationship between traditional leaders and the mines.  He noted that there is a perception that mines are using business opportunities to co-opt traditional leaders.  

Difficult questions emerging regarding the letting of housing to miners on land conferred by traditional leaders

Mnwana noted that there were disagreements between people that had been granted the use of land owned by traditional communities, and traditional leaders.

Many of those who have houses on such land are now sub-letting houses or shacks on such land to miners, who use their housing allowances to pay the rent.  However, traditional leaders have decried this practice.  Mnwana said that in some cases the traditional authority had threatened to knock down some backyard houses that had been rented out to miners.

Conclusion and call to action

Mnwana returned to the question of whether communities are benefitting from mining in Rustenburg.  He said that actually, this begged the question: what is the community?  He said that a better question to ask would be ‘which sectors of the community are benefitting and how?’

In question time, I noted that based on his talk, reports from monitors from the Benchmark Foundation, the Legal Resources Centre and Marietta Liefferink of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (who works on the dire problem of water supply and water pollution in mining areas), seemed to paint a picture of no agreement, with no shared vision for the future of the area. 

There appeared to be little agreement between mining companies, the state, traditional leaders and the communities that traditional leaders are legally permitted to represent.  I asked what he thought that civil society actors could do to move things from a situation of no agreement, to agreement on how to make the Western Limb a better place to live. 

He said that the one key area to work on was engagement with communities, so that they had a real voice in the decisions that affected them.  He said that choices, which affected the communities, should not be taken by traditional leaders without consulting the communities.