Chief ‘sinks hole’ in mine funds

2011-02-01 10:45

Thousands of rands deposited into a chief’s private bank account to help develop a poor mining community have disappeared.

Now the community of ­Phahlamanoge village, near ­Schoonoord in Sekhukhune, ­Limpopo, has laid criminal charges against their chief, Kgoshi Kgapyane Phahlamohlaka.

He was arrested a fortnight ago and released on R1 000 bail.

The battle at Phahlamanoge is the latest in a series of endless ­intracommunity fights across the country over shares in mines and related developmental funds.

Similar tensions have flared in various parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, Free State and North West in recent years.

Documents in City Press’s ­possession show that Kelgran Africa (Pty) Ltd, which holds ­prospecting rights for dimension stone on ­granite-rich Thornhill farm until October 2012, deposited R7 500 monthly into Phahlamohlaka’s account ­between September 2009 and April last year.

The mine was forced to suspend its payments of “surface rental” fees ­after the community accused the chief of having used the money for his ­personal benefit.

Kelgran group financial manager Francois van Wyk reiterated this week that the money was to benefit the entire Tau Phahlamanoge tribe.

The community is among the poorest in the country. While it has newly built RDP houses, other essentials such as water, jobs and a mobile phone network are in short supply.

Dated October 28 2010, a letter from Van Wyk informed Phahlamohlaka’s adviser, Edwin Sehlola, of the suspension of the payments until proof was submitted that the money was being used for its ­intended ­purpose.

“Please refer to our letter dated May 9 2010, where it is clearly stated that the monthly consideration is to help the tribe (community),” reads part of the letter.

“Once the matter has been resolved, kindly furnish us with a tribal resolution in that regard, ­after which Kelgran will resume further ­payments.”

After battling to get the chief and the traditional affairs unit in Premier Cassel Mathale’s office to address the matter, the community pressed charges of theft and fraud against Phahlamohlaka.

Limpopo police spokesperson Colonel Mohale Ramatseba said at least R52 500 was believed to have been embezzled by Phahlamohlaka.

The chief is scheduled to appear before the Schoonoord magistrates court again on Monday.

In a November 8 2010 letter addressed to Rachel Modipa, the Limpopo government’s director-general, community spokesperson ­Mafagahlele Mogalabi wrote that the chief had failed to inform the tribe about the money from Kelgran. Phahlamohlaka declined to ­comment, saying he would only speak about the issue once the court action had been finalised.

But his supporters dismissed his critics as “hungry hooligans” hell-bent on tarnishing the chief’s image in a bid to force him of out of power.

Bheki Khumalo, spokesperson for the mineral resources department, said the relationship between communities and the mines “differs from area to area”.

With the department considering 921 applications for mining rights across the country, battles among community members or ­between communities and the mines over shares and development funds can be expected to ­escalate.

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