Newspaper accuses Ivanhoe of dirty tricks in Limpopo

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A Canadian newspaper has accused that country’s Ivanhoe mining company of buying off traditional leaders and of cheating villagers to get its massive Platreef Project underway in South Africa’s Limpopo province.

The report in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail says officials including one from Ivanhoe Mines Ltd paid 82-year-old Raesetsa Makgabo R5 250 in compensation for the loss of her fields, but told her she would lose her state old-age grant of R1370 a month if she refused the offer. The newspaper says similar deals were struck with other members of the community.

The state pension is awarded to anyone over the age of 60 who has an annual income below R49 200 a year. Registering for the grant in South Africa’s former homelands can require documentation from a local chief or headman.

“Under an unresolved South African legal vacuum, both the tribal councils and the national government share jurisdiction over communal land in the apartheid system’s former black “homelands” such as the Platreef region. So the Canadian company has focused on winning support from the traditional council, while also forging links to the African National Congress, the national ruling party,” the report said.

The newspaper said Ivanhoe had acknowledged paying Vaaltyn Kekana, the chief or Kgosi of the traditional community at Mokopane, R30 000 a month and giving him the use of a computer and a farm. The newspaper said Ivanhoe gave similar benefits to village mining committees.

“The current chief, Vaaltyn Kekana, was inaugurated in 2003 after the previous chief died. Many community members supported an older rival, considering him a more legitimate heir to the title. But the ANC government gave its blessing to Mr. Kekana and urged the Canadian mining company to negotiate with the chief,” the Gobe and Mail reported on Friday.

The newspaper said other residents claimed they were threatened with the loss of welfare grants, fields and access to ancestral graves if they did not cooperate.

Ivanhoe was granted a 30-year renewable mining right for the Platreef Project in June 2013. The company was given a final go-ahead in November. The Platreef Project is 64% owned by Ivanhoe, with Japanese investors holding another 10% and black economic empowerment partners holding the 26% stake required in terms of the South African mining charter.

The $1.7 billion project is expected to be the biggest and most lucrative platinum mine in the world. Ivanhoe has said it will create 10 000 jobs and benefit 150 000 residents in the area. With a mining landscape as fraught as South Africa’s, there is a need for further research and investigative journalism that interrogates the stories behind the mining deals.

Read the full report from The Globe and Mail.

opinion-grey Brendan Boyle is a senior researcher at the Rural Women’s Action Research Project.
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