Serodumo Sa Rona brings hope to Bapong & other mining communities

The idea of this article is to evaluate and to check how communities around the Platinum Belt should have gained tangible benefits from the minerals extracted from their land.

 

The initial aim for this article was to focus on Lonmin’s current operational problems and how that impacts on the much touted R546 million empowerment deal clinched with the Bapo-ba-Mogale Tribal Council.

 

The writer wanted to find out what ordinary Bapong community members think of the very reduced value of Lonmin and whether they feel that they should start demanding a community stake in the mines operating from their land.

 

A platform for comments was also given to everyone from the ordinary Mopo, the Bapo-ba-Mogale Traditional Council through their CEO and spokesperson Lehlohonolo Nthontho, and from other community-based associations.

 

A special thank you goes to Mr. Kholisile Dingiswayo, the spokesperson for the community association Serodumo-sa-Rona, for taking the time to respond to questions posed below.

 

Noosie C. Petlele: Is Serodumo-sa-Rona operating only in Bapong? Are you, at some point in the future, going to also fight for the interests of villages such as Majakaneng, Marikana and Sonop in relation to mining rights and corporate social investment?

 

Mr. Kholisile Dingiswayo: Serodumo-Sa-Rona CBO is a universal body that currently has a total membership of 13 798 and viable units in the communities of Bapong, Majakaneng, Modderspruit, Mooinooi, Marikana, Wonderkop, Segwaelane, Sonop and Boschfontein.

 

We operate from Bapong at the moment but are planning to relocate our head office to Brits as well as establish a sub-office in Marikana in 2016. It is therefore prudent for us to raise awareness that we are not a tribal faction as some people want to believe but a civil society organisation whose objectives are central to promoting and protecting human and environmental rights, fighting corruption and maladministration in the public and private sector, public education and advocacy as well as promoting good governance.

 

Our program of action dictates that we engage with business stakeholders especially the mining companies operating in the vicinity. We are not convinced that despite the challenges in the mining sector, these companies can hide behind market prices for them not to meet their corporate social investment obligations.

 

Mining rights of communities remain a very complex issue because the laws that govern these are not known by the very people they affect and hence the discontent shown through the recent strike actions. It is a fact that the mining companies are not taking communities seriously.

 

To our observation, government is playing a questionable role in this. You certainly cannot have more than 60% of Cabinet Ministers, their families and friends owning mines and expect any fairness in the game.

 

A more long term agenda is to even reach out to communities that have been termed “classless” by some political leaders to ensure that the rights of these communities are not infringed upon simply because people there are begging for services that ought to be provided by government and the municipality. Our program entails rigorous public education activities through various forms of media, workshops and interaction with social groupings such as stokvels, burial societies and social clubs.

 

NP: Do you think Bapo-ba-Mogale are aware of what the BEE agreement reached last year between the Traditional/Tribal Authority Council and Lonmin entails? Can you simplify the agreement for us lay people?

 

KD: Many people in Bapong are very much aware of the issues around the BEE transaction concluded with Lonmin in 2014. It is also a known fact that our CBO and sister organisations have taken the matter to the North Gauteng High Court to have the agreement reviewed because it does not and would not benefit the community in its current form.

 

Firstly, the manner in which the resolution was reached spells a far cry on the traditional norms of the community.

 

Secondly, the status of the meeting (kgotha-kgothe) itself was fraudulent in that the name of Kgosi Bob Mogale was used to convene the meeting even though he had been prohibited by an order of the High Court to interfere with the affairs of the community and the order was still binding.

 

Thirdly, a number of agreements were mentioned as forming part of the deal but none of these were made available for the community to scrutinise. Ten separate agreements form part of the deal and the community was misled to entrapping itself into a transaction that stands to benefit only a few individuals.

 

Fourthly, the conversion of royalty to equity is a trick of the “language” used. Lonmin at one point ignored the community and chose to give 18% to Shanduka which is a company then owned by Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa.

 

The value of the shares given to him through a very dubious loan scheme amounts to R5.5 billion that Shanduka is vowing not to pay back. Had Lonmin given the community the same loan with the same terms the Bapo community could be very rich and providing for itself but instead it was made to give Lonmin its assets including the exclusive use of land surface (surface rights) and forfeiting mining royalties for a period ending in 2074.

 

To us this is a gross violation of the community’s rights to land ownership and use considering the fact that the community is the land owner not Kgosi or the traditional council.

 

Fifthly, the management and governance of arrangements stipulated in the agreements say that the community has no right to holding the three people in the mining committee accountable about the receipt and use of monies expected from the mine.

 

Very vague and non-committing statements are made in these agreements that obligate the mine to keeping its promises but stringent regulations are made for the community to comply with. There is also a Development Trust whose governance tenets are very shallow.

 

It is not a witch-hunt that we are at loggerheads with Lonmin. We believe that they knew what they were doing when they pushed for an illegal meeting to go on as well as funding its expenses. Lonmin knew that the traditional council was not yet officially in office because it only got gazetted in mid-August but proceeded to engage in illegal activities.

 

NP: What is the stance of the Unions to your challenge against the agreement? Are they openly supportive/not supportive/not involved or don’t care?

 

KD: The unions have not openly voiced their stance regarding our action but we are happy that many of our members are employed by Lonmin and belong to both AMCU and NUM. We regard unions as strategic partners in our program for societal transformation and development and we will have a continuous engagement with them on various key issues.

 

It wouldn’t be correct for us to draw a conclusion that since they remain silent on this matter they are not on the same page with us.

 

Our organisation has in a period of one year forged very good relations with credible institutions of higher learning and we have access to the best legal brains in the country and as such our capacity to assist the Bapo and other communities is without doubt.

 

Our program for socio-economic development seeks to compliment that of the municipality and government but also takes into account new business modalities to rural communities such as venture capital and other forms of investment for the advancement of women and the youth.

 

NP: Meaningful economic development in Bapong is going to be driven by leaders like yourselves, those willing to take on the establishment without fear. What do you want community members to know about Serodumo-sa-rona?

 

KD: We plead with our communities not to mistake Serodumo Sa Rona Community Based Organisation as an extension of any political party. Neither are we an opposition to traditional leaders or government but given the terrain we operate in, it is inevitable that we will be on opposite sides of the issues affecting society.

 

We have thus far made meaningful contributions to various forums including the United Nations through CIVICUS on climate change, human rights, environment rights, and economic development. We have also made submissions on new Bills published by government for public comment so our role in the communities is very sacrosanct and progress oriented.