Twenty farm workers and their families in Mpumalanga are standing between the Gupta family and President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane’s huge contract of R564 million to supply coal to Eskom.
These families are digging in their heels against Gupta-controlled Tegeta Exploration and Resources’ plans to relocate them so that the company can extend its open-pit mine activities.
“Our houses are literally being pulled out from under us, but we won’t be intimidated by it,” said 76-year-old Poppy Djiana.
The walls and ceilings of her and her neighbour’s houses are caving in, allegedly due to the incessant blasting operations at the mine. In addition, the area suffers from power
outages and water shortages.
There are no longer open plains in front of their homes, nor is there fresh air any more.
They now have a view of the mountain of coal that is piling up only a few hundred
metres from their homes on the other side of the boundary fence.
“We are scared our homes are going to collapse on top of us,” said Djiana.
She and her husband, Matthew (76), have been living on their patch of land on Leon Cass’ Van Eeden farm together with two other families since 1974. Another four families live on Cass’ land.
According to Sunnyboy Mnguni (45), another resident on the farm, their David and Goliath struggle began last year while the Swiss mining giant Glencore was still the owner of the Optimum mine.
Fifteen other families agreed to relocate to Rockdale, a settlement outside Middelburg. The remaining families weren’t satisfied with the houses they were promised and there is no pasture for their animals in Rockdale.
Now that Tegeta has bought Optimum, the negotiations have to start afresh.
Koos Djiana (41) believes the mines make it difficult for them to stay on purpose. Since they rejected the settlement offer, the mining activities are slowly creeping ever closer to their homes.
“You are busy making food or doing house work when suddenly a bakkie comes by to pick you up and take you away because they are blasting. Then we have to stand and wait in the veld hundreds of metres from our homes until they are finished,” he said.
Their animals run away in panic because of the noise, and some never returned.
Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor, who has been representing the families for the past 18 months, said mining companies were obliged to provide people with alternative land if they had to move, even if they just lived on the land and were not the owners of it.
The two- and three-bedroom houses they were offered in Rockdale were much too small for the families, and there was no space for a vegetable garden or fields in which to graze their cattle – their only source of income, Spoor said.
“Glencore ignored the international regulations for such relocations in their effort to get rid of these people. Tegeta mustn’t think they will now get away with it.
“The community is not willing to move until there is agreement,” he said.
Spoor said his clients knew that former neighbours who were relocated were now living “without work, without an income and without a future in Rockdale”.
“We are a big headache for the Guptas and for Zuma because we are now standing between them and prosperity,” said Spoor.
Tegeta Exploration and Resources did not respond to requests for comment by the time of going to press.