North West community leaders today (5 August) rejected a plan by Obed Bapela, deputy minister in the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, to consult traditional leaders on new norms and standards for the management of revenues from mining on communal land.
Fin24 reported yesterday that Bapela had acknowledged in an interview that more than R610m of the Bapo Ba Mogale community’s earnings had been squandered without proper controls in place.
Promising an indaba with traditional leaders later this year, Bapela said: “There are policy gaps that we need to consolidate.”
Several Bapo community leaders rejected Bapela’s plan, saying there are clear provisions in provincial and national law for the proper administration and auditing of community funds.
Provincial law requires all community revenue to be paid into an account controlled by the premier. Spending must be in accordance with an annual budget explicitly shaped to ensure community benefit. Expenditure outside of the budget must be approved by the premier, who is currently Supra Mahumapelo.
“There is no policy gap. It is the North West provincial government that has, over years, allowed more than R600m belonging to the people of the Bapo community to be frittered away without the controls required in terms of existing provincial laws,” said Manyama Julius Ramaboa, chairman of the Bapo Ba Mogale Liaison Committee.
“The national government has condoned this by failing to ensure the implementation of laws requiring that our funds are audited every year,” he added.
Abbey Mafate, secretary of the Serodumo Sa Rona Community Based Organisation, called for the urgent completion of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s three-year investigation into the disappearance of community funds from the so-called D-Account.
He urged Madonsela to tell the Bapo community before she leaves office in October who signed away the people’s money, where it went and whether any of it could be recovered and allocated in consultation with the community to agreed development needs.
Critics of the Bapo administration claim that traditional authorities, bolstered by post-apartheid law, and protected by provincial and national government officials, have taken control of companies and projects notionally intended to improve the lives of ordinary people.
“It is time to stop favouring investors, traditional leaders and political elites at the expense of communities that have to host mines,” Ramaboa said.
Ramaboa is the first applicant in a case launched by several Bapo community organisations last year to challenge the procedure followed in a 2014 agreement with Lonmin plc and the Bapo Traditional Council to swap a right to community royalties for equity and cash.
Ramaboa’s Liaison Committee, Serodumo and several Bapo residents accuse Lonmin and the Bapo Ba Mogale Traditional Council of closing the R664m deal without consulting the community according to their living customary law.
They argue that the community was also asked to approve a deal while being refused access to the details of the transaction, which gave the mining company sweeping rights to their land for at least half a century.
“The law is absolutely clear about the obligations on provincial and national authorities to oversee the investment, administration and allocation of our funds,” Ramaboa said.
“We have told officials at every level about this whenever possible, but our funds have still not been audited in more than 20 years. At the very least, the authorities have turned a blind eye to the abuse of our funds. At worst, they are complicit in taking money from our very poor communities,” he added.
“Deputy Minister Bapela says he plans to consult traditional leaders later this year about norms and standards to prevent this misuse of community money. That is absurd. Some traditional leaders are amongst the worst offenders in stripping the assets of our communities.
“Deputy Minister Bapela must consult the people on the ground about ways to manage money meant to uplift them. He needs to talk to us, not to traditional leaders. He needs to ensure that our rights are protected in terms of the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act [IPILRA],” Ramaboa said.
IPILRA, one of the shortest laws on the statue books, says communities may not be deprived of informal rights to land without their informed consent, which must be given at a public meeting by more than half the rights holders. Expropriation is only exception provided for in this law.
While mining investors repeatedly say they are advised by government departments to consult traditional leaders about mining deals, this is not supported by existing laws, including the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act (TLGFA) and the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA).
Mafate said Bapo community groups were preparing to challenge the draft Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill when it comes before MPs later this year because it proposes to give traditional leaders apparently unfettered power to make deals on community land.
The Bill has been tabled in Parliament, but proposed hearings have repeatedly been postponed, possibly to avoid confrontation with rural communities ahead of this week’s local government elections.
Brendan Boyle is a senior researcher at the Land & Accountability Research Centre in the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town.