Amplats premature to trumpet settlement with Mapela

ANGLO American Platinum (Amplats) trumpeted what it called a far-reaching R175m “settlement” between its operating company, Rustenburg Platinum Mines Limited, and the Mapela host community in Limpopo last week. The fanfare was premature.

Amplats CEO Chris Griffith said in a statement reported by Business Day that the donation represented “an investment into the future of the community”. The Mapela community’s chief, Kgoshi David Langa, said the agreement would “ensure a flow of tangible benefits to the community”. What Amplats failed to mention was that most of the Mapela community had been kept in the dark about the agreement. Nor did it mention that the agreement contemplates a structure which gives almost no power to the community to control its own assets.

The deal purports to “settle all outstanding issues” between the mine and the Mapela community and to “settle a number of legacy issues unrelated to the leases”. This is an attempt by Amplats to buy peace with the Mapela community after violent protests in September last year. Central to the protests was the community’s unhappiness with the lack of accountability by Amplats and the Kgoshi. But Amplats’ strategy is misguided because it continues to exclude a community that has lost so much land and has had to bear the brunt of mining disruptions for decades without meaningful benefits.

While Amplats and Kgoshi Langa laud the agreement, most of the community is less than thrilled. The agreement provides for a trust to control community assets, including the R175m settlement amount. Of seven trustees, only two will be community trustees. The community may nominate candidates to be trustees, but Kgoshi Langa has the sole power to choose who is ultimately appointed. This is a far cry from the democratic and inclusive decision-making structures required by customary law.

Amplats, in its statement, compares the structure to Royal Bafokeng Holdings — the “corporate structure” adopted in the Bafokeng community — and hails this model as a success. However, this ignores the serious failings inherent in the corporate model. This model strips away community members’ customary-law rights to participate in decision-making by allowing a small elite to obtain total control over the community’s assets. The Bafokeng example mentioned by Amplats has not been without controversy. When a structure similar to the one established by the Mapela settlement agreement — where a small number of trustees have total control over community assets — was proposed to the Bafokeng community, it immediately rejected it. The trust’s structure was then broadened somewhat, but that has not resolved the underlying problem that the community still has almost no power to control its assets.

Perhaps the rejection of this model by the Bafokeng community explains why Kgoshi Langa has been so secretive about the settlement agreement affecting his own community. He must realise that, like the Bafokeng community, the Mapela community would never accept a structure that excludes them from decisions about their assets. The Mapela community has fought for many months to be consulted on the settlement agreement, to no avail. When the community heard rumours early in 2016 of an agreement being negotiated, they asked through their representative body, the Mapela Executive Committee, to meet with Kgoshi Langa. The Kgoshi met with them and distributed an incomplete draft of the agreement, minus the most important details such as the structure of the controlling trust. The community objected to the lack of information provided and the failure to consult the community about the agreement.

The community asked Kgoshi Langa not to close the deal until proper community consultation was conducted adequately. The Kgoshi and Amplats nevertheless concluded the agreement, without informing the community. Only in April did it emerge that the agreement had been signed more than a month earlier.

The Kgoshi then ignored several requests by the community to see the final agreement. Only when the community sought legal advice and its lawyers wrote to Kgoshi’s legal counsel, Fasken Martineau, to put them on terms, did it receive a copy of the final agreement.

Kgoshi Langa has insisted in a Letter to Business Day that he did consult as required by custom and law, but community leaders in each of the 42 villages that make up the community know nothing of this claimed consultation. Community members charge that the Kgoshi keeps his friends and allies in the loop and every one else out of it and calls that consultation.

To exclude the Mapela community from making decisions regarding their own assets is to rub salt in the wounds of an already side-lined community. The community has long pleaded with Amplats and the Kgoshi for more transparency and consultation in decision-making on issues affecting them. In September last year, violence broke out in Mapela in the midst of two-week long community protests over these issues. Protestors also expressed their outrage over the closure of the Seritarita Secondary School in Skimming Village, Mapela. Community members were told that the land on which they had built the school at their own cost under apartheid was to be used as a waste dumping site. Many people were injured during the protests and some, including a pregnant woman, were shot at by the police. More than 36 community activists and protesters, including many women, were arrested.

The settlement agreement is clearly an attempt by Amplats to snuff out growing community discontent. To the extent that Amplats thinks this agreement will end tensions with the Mapela community, it has gravely misjudged the situation. As in the case of the Bafokeng community, the failure to consult the community on yet another issue that directly affects its members will deepen the crisis in the area rather than ameliorate it.

This article first appeared in Business Day on 28 April 2016 

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