The Pitfalls of Moving Villages

JOHANNESBURG (Business Day) -- Two different village relocations to make way for mines have taught the same lesson to the mining companies involved: the importance of communicating with local communities.

The much-publicised Motlhotlo Village relocation of 1,000 households near Anglo Platinum's [JSE:AMS] PPRust mine in Limpopo, and the more modest relocation of 16 households from an informal settlement on Umcebo Mining's Middelkraal coal mine property in Mpumalanga, were discussed at the Chamber of Mines sustainable development conference this week.

The PPRust relocation made the news at the end of May when some discontented villagers blocked roads to protest against their move and engaged high-profile lawyer Richard Spoor.

The go-ahead for the relocation came only in July after a new task team was appointed, involving the premier's office, the National Council of Provinces, municipal representatives and a wider spectrum of residents.

Since then the move has been slowed down by a delay in the delivery of houses by the contractor.

Greg Morris of Angloplat told the conference that the PPRust relocation was one of the most challenging he had been involved in because of the community, social, socioeconomic, legal and political difficulties it presented. There had been negative publicity, legal challenges, unreasonable demands, unprotected strikes during construction and even death threats.

On the positive side, it was rewarding to see what he believed was a substantial improvement in the community's standard of living.

The relocation was necessitated by the PPRust North expansion project, which made the old villages close to the new pit untenable. Angloplat offered the community various alternative sites, and community representatives were involved in every step of the environmental impact assessment, Morris said.

Section 21 companies were established with community representatives because it was necessary to have legal structures. Agreements were also signed with individual households. The minimum standard was to replace what residents already had, but Angloplat had also tried to improve that. About 2400 graves had been relocated, agricultural land was being laid out, schools were built and the municipality had agreed to maintain essential services.

Asked if, with hindsight, he would have done anything differently, Morris said although the section 21 companies were the appropriate vehicle for the community, they had been criticised for being unrepresentative. It might have been better to ensure their constitutions kept the membership representative or could demonstrate they were representative.

Sunil Mungaroo, of Umcebo Mining, said discussions with the community on the Middelkraal relocation began in July last year, and the process of moving them was still under way.

Householders were provided with a 77 square metres, five-roomed house on a 400 square-metre plot, which allowed for later improvements. The houses were being supplied with electricity, water and sewerage.

The challenges Umcebo faced included the timing of consultation with the community. It was important to be transparent, but not to raise hopes too early, Mungaroo said.

Residents had to learn to pay for their own electricity and water and maintain their own houses after initial problems were addressed. Individuals had to have title to their own houses.

One lesson Umcebo learnt was to keep its social and labour plan up to date. The plan was recently audited and because it had not been updated, the company got no credit for the project.

It also learnt it was crucial to involve the municipality because leaderless residents of the informal settlement needed an institution they could trust.

It was necessary to have binding agreements. Umcebo started the relocation project with a budget of R2 million (US$301,100), which had crept up to R2.9 million ($436,700) as the number of requests from residents increased, Mungaroo said.

Both Angloplat and Umcebo have taken steps to try to make the communities economically sustainable by replacing agricultural land, starting projects such as brick-making, service maintenance and hydroponics, and offering learnerships to residents.

Mungaroo emphasised the importance of involving government agencies such as social welfare, because there was a limit to what the mines could provide.

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