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Coal giant's operations not a blast for locals

Written by  Monday, 03 March 2014 19:26
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GLENCORE Xstrata, the largest mining company on the JSE and the world’s biggest commodities trader, has come in for a roasting from some communities living near its operations.


Little is known about the company, South Africa’s biggest coal exporter and the world’s fourth-largest mining company after the mega merger of Glencore with Xstrata last year. Some pundits dubbed it “the biggest company you’ve never heard of”.
But three communities near its collieries in Mpumalanga are claiming that the mining giant has trodden all over them in its endeavours to produce the 100million tons of coal that it sells each year.
Glencore Xstrata has political insurance: its main black empowerment partner in the coal industry is Shanduka, which is managed by ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa. Local community leaders claim the ANC Women’s League is involved with Glencore’s Wonderfontein project.

Eleven families living on Kaalplaats farm, just outside Glencore Xstrata’s Onverdacht coal mine, near Belfast, where the company has nine collieries, claim blasting nearby has created havoc.

“We have lived here since the 1960s,” said Selina Sindane, surveying the ruins of her recently demolished house on Jan Burger’s farm — a result, she claims, of mine blasting.

“We don’t know what we’re supposed to do or where we’ll have to go,” she said.

The house was demolished because it was unsafe, with cracked walls. The rest of Ms Sindane’s family now live in mud houses adjacent to her old home.

Sunlight streams through wide cracks in their walls. “This house is also collapsing because of the blasting at the coal mine,” said her 30-year-old grandson, Alfred Motau.

“This is an important place for our community. We have a history here, but we’re asking for relocation because we cannot live like this.
“There are about four mine blasts a month. Our mud houses are damaged, and the dust makes the air stink. We had to change our water tank because of this dust. There was a water analysis done by the company, but we haven’t been told what the results were,” Mr Motau said.

This is at odds with Glencore’s analysis of the problem. Glencore spokesman Charles Watenphul said that the company hired experts to assess the families’ claims -and it was found that they were untrue.
“It was concluded that the blasting from our mine did not contribute to damage to the property concerned,” he said.
“We have placed seven seismographs in and around the mining area. There is no evidence from the seismographs that indicates that any structural damage has occurred as a result of blasting activities.”

Nonetheless, said Mr Watenphul, Glencore offered to supply all materials needed to repair cracks in the houses.
“Since then we have not received any complaints.”

But it is clear that this issue taps into a vein of resentment in communities living close to mines in South Africa, who are often not told what is happening or feel that mines are abusing them.

This is the untold story of many of the mines, despite the fact that all mining houses must submit community and social responsibility plans to the Department of Mineral Resources. But, with commodity prices subdued, and striking workers throwing a spanner in the works, many mines are either not bothering to honour these commitments or are falling short.

Publicly, Glencore Xstrata trumpets its commitment: it has pledged more than $100m of investment in South Africa’s coal industry, and talks about projects it is developing. But the communities are taking these pronouncements with a pinch of salt.
“The mine management has said that this community is too far from the mine for relocation,” said Kleinbooi Mahlangu, head of the Belfast Community Association.
“When we complained about the blasting and asked for relocation, a representative of the company said: ‘We’re not here to give people housing.’”

Glencore responded that across the world it had a “positive impact on the communities in which we operate”.
Mr Watenphul said: “We make every effort to identify and address any concerns of local stakeholders by working with them, especially those most affected by our operations.”
Glencore has relocated communities, such as that near its Wonderfontein colliery, but even then the communities remain unhappy.

This is not the first time that the ethics of Glencore have come under the microscope.
In 2008, it was castigated widely for “unacceptable” labour conditions at its Colombian coal mines.
Last year, Colombia’s supreme court found that paramilitary units killed 18 farmers and displaced 48 families in 2002 so that the land could be sold to Glencore for coal mining.
At the time, Glencore denied owning the land or having a commercial interest in it -but several parts of the land were owned by its Colombian subsidiary, Prodeco.
In Zambia, Glencore was criticised for allegedly manipulating copper prices to evade tax, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo the company was accused of pollution, tax evasion and using child labour.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper revealed last April that Glencore sold metals, wheat and coal worth $659m to Iran during 2012, including aluminium oxide used for Tehran’s nuclear centrifuge programme. Glencore Xstrata denied all of these accusations.
Glencore’s Klippan Colliery has relocated five families and built 10 houses because of doubts about the structural integrity of the original homes. This hasn’t pleased everyone, however.
“Before the relocation, the company told us we would have better housing, but now I have sleepless nights in this new house,” said Braai Sibanyoni.
He said that whenever it rained water flowed into the house.
“Water also drains into the walls, and my furniture is starting to rot. Before the relocation, I used to have a brick house bigger than this one and without all of these problems.”
Glencore said it had “for the last three years responded to all complaints” from Mr Sibanyoni, and made “the necessary repairs”.
It said that it gave Mr Sibanyoni and Branaza Suahatsi 170ha of grazing land each to replace the 30ha they had previously.
Glencore said that its Umcebo mining company “meets the community on at least a weekly basis as part of our stakeholder engagement process -but no complaints were received of late”.
“We didn’t want to come here,” said a woman who asked not to be named. “When we were told to move, we refused, so the company just started blasting next to our home. My mother said she didn’t want to stay there any more, so we accepted the relocation. Now we’re in houses that are smaller than the ones we had before.”
Mr Mahlangu said: “The company has done that several times. When people don’t want to relocate, they start blasting close to their homes until they accept the relocation.”
Asked if he considered that a forced removal, Mr Mahlangu responded: “Of course.”

Non-government organisations are also furious with Glencore Xstrata.
“They’ve moved people onto a farm without obtaining a change-of-land-use authorisation,” said Koos Pretorius, director of coal issues of the Federation for Sustainable Development of Belfast.
“What they did was a criminal offence, but they just pay a fine and go on. They don’t want to admit they did anything unlawful.
“I don’t know if Cyril Ramaphosa knows about all this, but what’s being done in his name is horrendous.”
Klippan colliery is managed by Shanduka Coal, a company founded by Ramaphosa, who is one of its owners. Mr Ramaphosa is Glencore Xstrata’s main black economic empowerment partner in the coal industry.

In 2012, it emerged that several mines managed by Shanduka Coal had been operating without water licences.
These precedents trouble the communities that neighbour the Wonderfontein coal mine, developed by Umsimbithi, which is partly owned by Glencore Xstrata.
At Wonderfontein, Glencore relocated 11 households -a process still under way and expected to be finished in July.
“They first told us we were going to get a house bigger than the one we have now, and that we would have a better life,” said Samuel Kambule.
“Then they told us the house was going to be the same size as the one we have now.”
“We were told we would have employment, but no one here has been employed.
“We were told there would be no blasting before we were relocated, but the blasting has already started.”
Glencore’s Watenphul admitted that blasting had started at Wonderfontein, but said the mine “has taken measures to ensure safety” of the communities, and all the people live more than 500m from the blasting.
“The quality of the houses being built is significantly better than their current structures,” he said.
“To date, we have not received any complaints or referrals related to the relocation.”
This does not placate Glencore’s critics, however.
“The company didn’t honour past agreements, but they will talk,” said Mr Pretorius.
“As long as they can keep on mining, they will talk, because once they get the mine operational they’ll say it’s too expensive to halt operations.
“The Wonderfontein project is operating without a water licence because we appealed [against] the licence that was granted and there hasn’t been a decision by the court of appeals.
“The ANC Women’s League is one of the stakeholders in the Wonderfontein project,” said Mr Mahlangu. “They’ve said it is to empower women.”
• This investigation was undertaken with support from the Taco Kuiper Grant, awarded by the Wits School of Journalism
Analysts are still keen on Glencore
THOUGH Glencore Xstrata may battle to placate communities around its Mpumalanga collieries, investment analysts still swoon over the company.
It's worth R833-billion on the JSE thanks to its secondary listing last year. Analysts rate it as one of the hotter prospects on the local bourse ahead of its financial results next week. Most analysts rate it a buy, expecting its share price of around R58 to climb above R65 over the next year.
In a research report this week, Credit Suisse also rated it as a buy on the London Stock Exchange, expecting an upside of nearly 20% on its current price.
"[This year] will be the year for Glencore to deliver targeted cost-savings, improve the balance sheet and prove the returns- focused approach. Successful execution will allow the company to increase cash returns and capitalise on growth opportunities further down the line," it said.
This adds to the hype after brokerage Merrill Lynch last month rated the shares as a buy on the expectation that the sale of assets would boost the share price.
Glencore will release results for 2013 this week, and is expected to show a notable increase in pretax profit. An update last month revealed that it had a 26% rise in copper production last year, with the African businesses increasing production 43%.
Since listing on the JSE last year, Glencore hasn't exactly shot out the lights as the share price climbed only 9.6%
Still, many local investors don't know much about the company's intriguing past.
Glencore was created in 1994 after notorious oil trader Mark Rich sold his shares in his company to management, which then renamed it. Rich, who died in June, was indicted in the US in 1983 for 65 criminal offences. He was later pardoned by the then president Bill Clinton.
• This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times | by Santiago Villa, March 02 2014

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Mining activists in SA face death threats, intimidation and harassment - report

SATURDAY STAR | 19 APRIL 2019, 7:41PM | SHEREE BEGA Picture:Yvette Descham On August 13 2013, Billy M heard gunshots at the gate of his house. He didn't know who fired the gun, and, worried that local traditional leadership might be involved, he didn't report the incident to the police. For the next five years, the community activist from Fuleni, a small rural village in KwaZulu-Natal bordering one of SA's oldest and largest wilderness areas, the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, continued to receive threats.  "We know our lives are in danger. This is part of the struggle," he says, simply. Billy M's account is contained in a new report released this week, 'We know Our  Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities, which documents how community activists in mining areas face harassment, intimidation and violence. The report details how in Billy M's case, mining company Ibutho Coal had applied for rights to develop a coal mine in Fuleni in 2013. The development would have required the relocation of hundreds of people from their homes and farmland and destroy graveyards. "The mine's environmental impact assessment estimated that more than 6000 people living in the Fuleni area would be impacted. Blasting vibration, dust, and floodlights, too, could harm the community," says the report."During the environmental consultation processes, Billy M led opposition that culminated in a protest by community members in April 2016."The company reportedly abandoned the project in 2016 while another firm, Imvukuzane Resources is reportedly interested in mining in the area.The 74-page report, compiled by Human Rights Watch, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), groundWork, and Earthjustice, describes a system designed to "deter and penalise" mining opponents.The authors conducted interviews with more than 100 activists, community leaders, environmental groups, lawyers representing activists, police and municipal officials, describing the targeting of community rights defenders in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Northwest, and Eastern Cape between 2013 and 2018. They report intimidation, violence, damage to property, the use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest for their activities in highlighting the negative impacts of mining projects on their communities. "The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilise to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants," write the authors."Women often play a leading role in voicing these concerns, making them potential targets for harassment and attacks."But municipalities often impose barriers to protest on organisers that have no legal basis while government officials have failed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse."Some mining companies resort to frivolous lawsuits and social media campaigns to further curb opposition to their projects.  The government has a Constitutional obligation to protect activists," write the authors. Picture: Shayne Robinson, Section 27 Authorities should address the environmental and health concerns related to mining "instead of harassing the activists voicing these concerns,” remarks Matome Kapa, attorney at the CER.The report starts with the high-profile murder of activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, who was killed at his home after receiving anonymous death threats in 2016. Rhadebe was the chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), a community-based organisation formed in 2007 to oppose mining activity in Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape.  "Members of his community had been raising concerns that the titanium mine that Australian company Mineral Commodities Ltd proposed to develop on South Africa’s Wild Coast would displace the community and destroy their environment, traditions, and livelihoods. More than three years later, the police have not identified any suspects in his killing."Nonhle Mbuthuma, another Xolobeni community leader and spokesperson of the ACC, has also faced harassment and death threats from unidentified individuals. "I know I am on the hit list.… If I am dying for the truth, then I am dying for a good cause. I am not turning back," she says.But other mining areas have had experiences similar to that of Xolobeni. "While Bazooka’s murder and the threats against Nonhle have received domestic and international attention, many attacks on activists have gone unreported or unnoticed both within and outside the  country."This is, in part, because of "fear of retaliation for speaking out, and because police sometimes do not investigate the attacks", the authors found.The origin of these attacks or threats are often unknown. "So are the perpetrators, but activists believe they may have been facilitated by police, government officials, private security providers, or others apparently acting on behalf of mining companies. "Threats and intimidation by other community members against activists often stem from a belief that activists are preventing or undermining an economically-beneficial mining project. In some cases, government officials or representatives of companies deliberately drive and exploit  these community divisions, seeking to isolate and stigmatize those opposing the mine."The Minerals Council South Africa, which represents 77 mining companies, including some in the research areas, responded that it “is not aware of any threats or attacks against community rights defenders where (its) members operate”.The authors state that while the mining sector and the government emphasise how mining is essential for economic development, "they fail to acknowledge that mining comes at a high environmental and social cost, and often takes place without adequate consultation with,or consent of, local communities".The absence of effective government oversight means that mining activities have harmed the rights of communities across South Africa in various ways. "Such activities have depleted water supplies, polluted the air, soil, and water, and destroyed arable land and ecosystems."Researchers also documented cases of police misconduct, arbitrary arrest, and excessive use of force during protests in mining-affected communities, "which is part of a larger pattern in South Africa".Last year, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at Wits University documented various efforts by traditional authorities to stifle opposition to mines in their communities. "In some cases, traditional authorities label those opposing mines as anti-development and troublemakers, thus alienating and stigmatising them.As a result, community members are often afraid to speak out against a mine in open consultations," CALS found.Research by the SA Human Rights Commission, too, has found that community members sometimes “are afraid to openly oppose the mine for fear of intimidation or unfavourable treatment (by the Traditional Authority)."The SAHRC says many mining-affected communities are experiencing “the creation of tension and division within communities as a result of mining operations.Sometimes, threats and intimidation against activists come from community members who have been promised economic benefit from the proposed project or are politically allied with the government or traditional authority."Local communities often do not benefit from mining activities, says the report. "Although South African law requires the development of social and labour plans (SLPs) that establish binding commitments by mining companies to benefit communities and mine workers, CALS has documented significant flaws in the development and implementation of SLPs."Despite the environmental and social costs of mining, the government is not adequately enforcing relevant environmental standards and mining regulations throughout South Africa. The SAHRC has found that the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) often fails to hold mining companies accountable, "imposing few or no consequences for unlawful activities and therefore shifting the costs of pollution to local communities."Compliance with regulatory obligations, as well as monitoring and enforcement of such responsibilities, remains a crucial concern in the context of mining activities," says the SAHRC, noting how the DMR and other governmental agencies often do not respond to complaints filed against mines by community members.The report's authors describe how the lack of government action and oversight has also helped make the mining industry one of the least transparent industries in South Africa. Information that communities require to understand the impacts of mines and to hold mining companies accountable for harmful activities is often not publicly available. "Such information includes environmental authorisations, environmental management programs, waste management licences, atmospheric emission licences, mining rights, mining work programmes, social and labour plans, or compliance and enforcement information."The only way to access such information is through a request under South Africa’s access to information law, a procedure that the World Health Organisation has called 'seriously flawed' and which the DMR regularly flouts. In addition, mining companies and the government rarely consult meaningfully with communities during the mining approval process, resulting in uninformed and poor government and industry decisions that do not reflect community perspectives or have their support," says the report.The authors assert how the threats, attacks, and other forms of intimidation against community rights defenders and environmental groups have created an environment of fear "that prevents mining opponents from exercising their rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and undermines their ability to defend themselves from the threats of mining".In its November 2018 review of South Africa’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern about “reports of human rights defenders, particularly those working to promote and defend the rights under the Covenant in the mining and environmental sectors, being threatened and harassed". It recommended that South Africa provide a safe and favourable environment for the work of human rights defenders to promote and protect economic, social, and cultural rights, including by "ensuring that all reported cases of intimidation, harassment, and violence against human rights defenders are promptly and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice". Mining activist Mariette Liefferink, who made submissions to the UN committee, tells how it has become increasingly difficult to work as an environmental rights defender in South Africa.   "There is an overwhelming body of evidence of intimidation, whether it is by means of frontal attacks or more insidious attacks on activists."International and South African law requires South Africa to guarantee the rights of all people to life, security, freedoms of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and the rights to health and a healthy environment, say the authors."The attacks, threats, and obstacles to peaceful protest described in this report prevent many community activists in South Africa from exercising these rights to oppose or raise concerns about mines, in violation of South Africa’s obligations." 

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