Visit to mining communities

Platinum Refinery

Rustenburg – Home to the two largest platinum mines and the largest platinum refinery in the world, Rustenburg is no doubt one of the engines that drive South Africa’s economy.

Mining contributes 23.3% to the North West economy and the platinum that is produced in the province’s mines continues to make South Africa the world’s number one producer of the precious mineral.  But in contrast, the town is also home to some of the country’s poorest communities.

Government concedes that workers coming from dysfunctional communities are counterproductive for the economy. It also makes sense that mining communities should benefit from the mining activates taking place at their door steps, says Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane.

“It is something that we cannot tolerate as government. Mining communities have to be able to feel the benefits of having these mines,” Chabane told SAnews during a visit to Boitekon mining area, about 20 kilometres from the town of Rustenburg.

Chabane, together with the Ministers of Finance Pravin Gordhan, Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa, Labour Mildred Oliphant and Human Settlements Connie September, are part of the ministerial committee tasked with assessing the situation in distressed mining communities.

The ministers visited several housing projects in the area, where they expressed progress on the work being done to address the housing needs of these communities. They also visited, the Madibeng district, Bokamoso and Moses Kotane regions. Most of the houses are still under construction.

Government has had to deal with several challenges in the mining sector in recent months, with fears that the economy may not withstand the impact of the protracted labour disputes in the sector.

Special Presidential Package

President Jacob Zuma, who recently announced a special ‘Presidential Package’ to improve the living and working conditions of workers in key mining towns, will himself soon visit Rustenburg to monitor several projects there.

The Special Presidential Package is aligned to the Mining Charter, which commits mining companies to, in consultation with stakeholders, establish measures for improving the standard of housing, including the upgrading the hostels, conversion of hostels to family units and promote ownership options.

“It is our on-going task to improve the conditions of communities around the mines. So we are here today to look at the progress which is being made, which includes issues around the improvement of the people’s lives around the mines,” said Chabane.

“Government is putting money forward, we are talking to the mines to also contribute so that we can build as many houses and provide services like water and sanitation and roads.”

A year after the death of 44 people in Marikana in August 2012, the majority of them miners, Chabane said government has learnt something from the incident.

“What happened in Marikana can’t be repeated and we can’t define our mining sector just by that incident.”

Chabane accepted that there will be tensions now and then between employers and employees in the mining sector, but said the country’s labour relations legislation was adequate to address these.

“Obviously from time to time, there will be conflicts during negotiations for salaries and working conditions. Those will continue to happen but we hope the workers, mining communities and employers would be able to agree with each other in whatever they are dealing with,” added Chabane.

Thusanang project

A project, led by Anglo American, will deliver more than 20 000 state-of-the art housing units in six different mining villages in the greater Rustenbeg area.

Dubbed Thusanang (help each other), the project, say those behind it, will go a long way to address housing needs of communities surrounding several mines around Rustengburg.

“Mostly, the beneficiaries are the communities here but in terms of the agreement, Anglo has an option to nominate some beneficiaries but it cuts across a very wide spectrum,” said the mining company’s James Crosswell.

Government to closely monitor projects

Finance Minister Gordhan vowed that where state money had been used to build houses, government will closely monitor the projects from start to finish, adding that the state had learnt the hard way in the past.

“We have tens of thousands of families that are waiting for decent houses…what we don’t want is to repeat the mistakes of the past, where unscrupulous contractors are only interested in making money for themselves,” said Gordhan.

He said it was “a pity” that tax payers had lost billions of rands after government had to rebuild hundreds of houses.  “I think going forward, we will hear of more positive stories because we are more alert than before.”

This was echoed by Housing Minister September, who said the plans to build sustainable housing for the mining communities were in place, and finding solutions needed to come from all parties involved; in this case the mines, local communities and government.

“I am happy that most have started the process. However, there are challenges here and there, but I hope they will be addressed soon. I am particularly excited with the different ideas of how to build these sustainable houses. There seems to be innovation and more integration,” she said. –