Families fight Gupta mine

2016-09-11 13:33
Muzikayifani Mabena (62) lost his 32 cattle after agreeing to be resettled at Rockdale, an urban township outside Middelburg. Mabena complains that the house is too small and that life has become expensive as compared to Mooifontein Farm. Picture: Sizwe Yende

Muzikayifani Mabena (62) lost his 32 cattle after agreeing to be resettled at Rockdale, an urban township outside Middelburg. Mabena complains that the house is too small and that life has become expensive as compared to Mooifontein Farm. Picture: Sizwe Yende

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Mooifontein - Muzikayifani Mabena (62) shakes his head in frustration as he remembers the lifestyle he once had and lost to a mine.

The pensioner puts his head in his hands and pauses, then continues to rail against Optimum Coal Mine in Mooifontein near Middelburg.

Mabena shows City Press a collection of photographs showing the carcasses of his cattle, his wealth, while he was a farm worker with protected land rights under the Extension of Security Tenure Act at Mooifontein. The cattle died because of lack of grazing land, he says.

He agreed to be relocated to a cramped two-bedroom house in Rockdale, a township southeast of Middelburg, because Optimum Coal’s operations had been expanding and encroaching on the land where his family and 68 others had led fairly successful lives as farm workers with land to grow their own food and keep livestock.

Optimum is owned by the Gupta family and has a R560 million contract to supply coal to Eskom for its coal-generated power stations. The displacement of families has been a major issue due to unbridled coal mining operations in Mpumalanga’s Highveld region, with some environmentalists warning that mining in the region was affecting people’s health, and threatening water sources and food security.

Mabena had more than 32 cattle. Tears trickle down his face as he calculates that in the four years since he left Mooifontein, his herd could have multiplied.

“Urban life at Rockdale is too expensive. I lived in a bigger house on the farm. My sitting room alone was equal to this kitchen and sitting room combined,” Mabena says, gesturing at his RDP house.

“At the end of the month, I used to get an 80kg bag of maize meal and 10 cans of fish for free. Firewood was free and I used the farm’s tractor to load it. I milked my own cattle. Now I need R12 to buy milk for tea ... I lost everything and I don’t work,” he says.

Mabena’s wheelchair-bound aunt, Selaphi Mthethwa (83), was also relocated and lives a few streets away. Mthethwa’s house does not have a ramp for her wheelchair and her family members struggle to wheel her in and out of the house. The clinic is 8km away. At Mooifontein, a mobile clinic visited them regularly.

The relocated families accuse Optimum of failing to give them title deeds for their new homes, and of reneging on their promises to train and employ the young members of their families. Without the title deeds, they are worried that their children could be evicted once they die.

Optimum Coal Mine manager Hlayiseka Chauke referred written questions to Oakbay Resources’ communications department this week, which did not respond. The department of mineral resources also did not respond to questions about the mine’s failure to deliver what was promised to relocated families.

The mine is now fighting to remove seven other families that have stubbornly stayed at Mooifontein, demanding fair compensation.

These families do not trust the mine’s management, and they refused to even temporarily relocate to Rockdale while their lawyer, Richard Spoor, and the owners sort out the matter, which began in 2013.

However, the remaining families are complaining about the effect of the mine’s daily blasting, which they say is damaging their mud houses, and they also have to endure fumes and dust as a result of the blasting. They say their livestock are also stressed by blasting and their grazing fields are dry.

Spoor said Optimum should resettle the families according to the International Finance Corporation’s Guidance Note 5, which determines the size of houses and land.

Spoor said the Rockdale houses did not meet these standards and are too small. The largest room is 9m2, while a kitchen is 5m2 as opposed to international standards of 11m2 per room. The houses are also poorly designed – the bathrooms are next to the kitchens, there are insufficient appliances and loose, unsecured electrical wiring.

Spoor has proposed that if the families opt for urban settlement, their relocation allowance should be increased from R7 500 to R35 000 per household. Optimum should subsidise municipal services at R3 000 per family per year and R3 million should be allocated to a community trust.

“We’re trying to get agreement on mediation. Optimum has no grasp about international standards of resettlement … that’s problematic,” said Spoor.

Poppie Djiana (77) has refused to move despite the fact that she’s had to rebuild her house twice this year because of the blasting. The mine’s opencast blasting is taking place less than 1km from her house.

“We can’t sleep at night because of the noise and when we try to catch up during the day, the alarm wails to warn us that blasting is about to start and they come with their vans to take us away. This happens every day. Our chickens can no longer incubate eggs on the ground because of the tremors when they blast,” Djiana says.

“We want to relocate and be far from the mine, but they must do it the right way,” she says.

Read more on:    guptas  |  nelspruit  |  mining

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