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Our land is gone, it’s been eaten by the mine

  • by African Times
  • 2 Years ago
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EVERY morning Christina Matjiu wakes up to the sight of ever rising grey mine dumps that tower a few hundred metres above her home.
“I just want to leave this place. I’m tired,” says the 64-year-old grandmother cuddling one of her grandchildren.

She hates the sight of the manmade mountains, the grey rubble from the belly of the earth which now stands in stark contrast to the natural rocky granite hills dotted around the village of Motlhotlo.

In a different time, the land where the mine dunes now stand was the source of pride for Matjiu and residents of the village which is now reduced to only a few households.
“We used to plough here. We had food,” she pauses to pick up one of her cheerful little grandchildren who is oblivious of the pain edged on the old woman’s weary face.
“We had maize, melons, potatoes, groundnuts. Our cattle were fat. We had water and we never really needed money. We had plenty of food,” says Matjiu pointing in the direction of the dunes.
“Now we are just hungry. We can no longer plough anything. Our land is gone. It has been eaten by the mine,” she says.

91-year-old Sara Tsebe says her home has been ruined by the effects of mining from the nearby Mogalakwena Platinum Mine owned by Anglo American. Tsebe was born and grew up in the village of Mohlotlo near Mokopane. However she together with 60 other families have refused to move their ancestral land to make way for mining activity. They are demanding that Anglo provide them with alternative land where they can continue with subsistence farming activity and monetary compensation. Photo: Lucas LedwabaMukurukuru Media

Matjiu lives near the Mogalakwena Platinum Mine, situated about 20km from the town of Mokopane in Limpopo’s Waterberg district. The mine covers an area of 137 square kilometres, making it the biggest open pit platinum mine in the world.

According to its owners Anglo American Platinum, the mine’s platinum reserves are expected to last until 2040.

This means by the end of this year it will only be left with 23 years of operations. By then, Matjiu would be in her
80s and her grandchild in his mid-20s.

But their village will most probably be a hazy memory. Although mining operations there started in 1926 and later shut down, the mine reopened in the early 90s, between 1991 and 1993 just before the dawn of democracy.

Matjiu’s 10 room home is one of less than 60 households remaining in the village following the relocation of more than 500 families by Anglo in the last three years.

As mining operations expanded at the turn of the millennium, the village and others around the mine became the subject of protracted resettlement efforts by Anglo Platinum.

The villages fall under the Mapela Traditional Authority. So far, a reported more than 85% of Motlhotlo residents have been relocated after accepting an offer by Anglo Platinum to relocate to Rooibokfontein.

In the new settlement, just under 10km away, Anglo has built new housing units, schools, churches and offered financial compensation to those who accepted the offer to move.

However, gone is the old way of life of ploughing the lands and rearing cattle. In Motlhotlo, most of the houses
have been reduced to rubble and only a few diehards like Matjiu remain.

But theirs is a hard existence. There are no shops, schools or clinics operational in the area since the relocation.

Instead what remains of the village resembles a forgotten settlement marked by heaps of rubble that tell the tale of homes that were flattened, whole memories erased in the name of development.

Matjiu argues that the amount of land offered for relocation is not enough to warrant them to leave their ancestral lands and relocate to a new area.

Only 61 families have remained in Mohlotlo after the relocation of more than 600 others to make way for mining activity by Anglo’s Mogalakwena Platinum Mine. The few remaining residents say they want a better deal in terms of land and monetary compensation before they can move. Photo: Lucas LedwabaMukurukuru Media

They also want Anglo to move them to an area where they will be offered land for ploughing. Rooibokfontein has beautiful and spacious houses located on small plots.

But residents like Matjiu want more land like they have always owned in the past, where they can plough and grow their own food.

They also want guarantees that they will have enough land to continue to keep cattle. Nonagenarian Sara Tsebe lives
in a dilapidated house on the edge of a koppie overlooking the mine with her epileptic son who recently suffered burns after falling into a floor fire during a seizure.

The walls of her large three roomed brick house are marked by cracks which she says were caused by the effects of mining. She has lived in the village for most of her life.

She remembers a time when the mine was situated very far from the village and did not interfere with life in Motlhotlo.
But now the operation has moved so close to her house she can hear the roar of trucks and machinery from the mine.

She sits outside in the lapa of her homestead cooking on a floor fire. At 91 years old, she says she no longer has the energy to work the lands.

She wishes to leave the village. But like Matjiu, she too wants a better deal from Anglo.

She feels a cash amount of at least R400 000 and undertakings by Anglo to employ local youth including some of her grandchildren could sway her to consider moving eventually.
“I am old, too old now. I can no longer work in the fields. I just want to live in peace in a decent home,” she says.

It’s late afternoon. An eerie silence is broken only by the distant roar of mining machinery and big trucks.

Tsebe’s home used to be surrounded by neighbours. But all around her home, heaps of bricks tell the story of a community that is fast disappearing.

As part of its agreement with the community, Anglo provides a regular free transport service to ferry residents to access amenities in town and nearby villages.

But life is no longer the same. Matjiu’s daughter Mmamma remembers a time when the village was lively, with stores and “many football grounds.”

IN PAIN: Mamma Matjiu says her home which is situated just 300metres from mining operations was seriously damaged during blasting operations. However after numerous complaints Anglo provided her with a zinc shack. Matjiu still bears the scar of a ruber bullet on her face after she was shot by mine security during a meeting between mining management and residents over unfulfilled job promises. Photo: Lucas LedwabaMukurukuru Media

She still bears a scar on her face after she was shot by mine security guards two years ago. Mmamma says the community had gone to meet with Anglo HR managers to discuss the burning issue of jobs for locals when security
guards opened fire on them.

She was taken to hospital and later spent nine days in police holding cells.

She was acquitted after a long trial but she cannot remember what charges she had faced.

She lives across the street from her parents’ home.

She is worried about her mother, especially after her father died in 2015.

He became gravely ill, apparently from worrying too much about the relocation.

Mmamma says the family is now haunted by their paternal grandfather, whose remains were among those exhumed and relocated from Motlhotlo.
“Our grandfather’s spirit is not resting in peace. He appears in visions asking why he was taken away from here,” explains Mmamma.

She has resigned herself to the inevitable reality that soon they too will be moved. But like the other residents she
hopes their cry for a better deal with be heard.

On a late weekday afternoon, she stands on a hill above her home and looks down at the empty spaces left behind by
relocated families.
She doesn’t say a word for a long time. She stands there staring into the distance.

Her pensive look tells of a pain too deep to express in words, a solemn lament for the only home she has known all her life. – Mukurukuru

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