- South African authorities have extended the deadline for compensation talks over a platinum mine, after a no-show by the mining company that affected communities say is “run by bullies.”
- Also in South Africa, a community that only recently reclaimed land it was driven from during apartheid faces fresh eviction for a planned coal plant and steel mill.
- In the Democratic Republic of Congo, NGOs say a secret deal to allocate two of 30 oil blocks to a company with no industry experience should be grounds for suspending the whole auction.
- Element Africa is Mongabay’s bi-weekly bulletin rounding up brief stories about land rights & extractives in Africa.
South Africa community stands up to ‘bully’ platinum miner
GA-NGWEPE, South Africa — The South African government has given a platinum miner until March 1 to discuss compensation to communities for potential damages on land it intends to mine near the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve.
Waterberg JV Resources (Pty.) Ltd., majority-owned by Vancouver-based Platinum Group Minerals, didn’t show up at a Feb. 15 meeting convened by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to mediate a dispute over the platinum mine in the northern province of Limpopo.
Some 500 members of the Ga-Ngwepe, Lewaneng and Kgatlu communities say they fear the mine will deplete scarce water supplies in the area and that blasting could damage their homes.
In October 2022, the government overruled their concerns and issued Waterberg a permit for the mine. The minister of mines ruled residents had not demonstrated their right to the land, which lies in a buffer zone of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve. Platinum Group president and CEO Frank Hallam announced a $21 million pre-construction work program to advance the Waterberg project.
Community members immediately lodged an objection under a provision of South Africa’s mining law that freezes all activities until a government-convened mediation between the company and community is held.
Aubrey Langa, a member of the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa (MEJCON-SA), said the company ignored this objection and broke down a farm fence in November 2022, moving its mining equipment onto the local farmers’ fields. The company was previously censured for operating without a water use license.
A government official, Seja Matlakala, wrote to Waterberg, in an email on which Mongabay was copied: “Can you please stop and understand that the community is not against the mining company but want to be consulted in entering their farms as this is a very sensitive livelihood matter?”
However, community leader Mamidi Ngoepe said his community does not want the mine at all, and accused its owners of breaking the law by boycotting the mediation. “This company is run by bullies. They did not come to the meeting. They indicated that they have nothing to answer to or discuss,” he told Mongabay in a phone interview.
“We believe we will eventually defeat them. We will soldier on, although the people on the ground are discouraged by the behavior of this mining company.”
Neither Matlakala nor Waterberg’s Mlibo Mgudlwa responded to questions sent by Mongabay.
The Vhembe Biosphere Reserve is a 460,000-hectare (1.14-million-acre) expanse of forest, grassland and savanna that includes parts of Kruger National Park, the Thathe Vondo sacred forest, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site at the ancient kingdom of Mapungubwe.
The biosphere holds hundreds of different species of insects, reptiles, birds and mammals. Vhembe and its buffer zones are also home to more than 1.5 million people, many of them farmers like those opposed to the platinum mine.
South Africa community faces eviction for coal plant, steel mill
MULAMBWANE, South Africa — More than 1,000 residents of Mulambwane in South Africa’s northern province of Limpopo are set be evicted to make way for the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone. The provincial government plans to build a complex including a coal-washing facility, a steel plant, and a 1,320-megawatt coal-fired power station on 3,500 hectares (8,650 acres) that this farming and herding community only reclaimed in 2008, clearing valuable baobab and mopane trees and stressing the water supply of this semiarid area.
The provincial government says the project will create employment and spur development in the nearby towns of Musina and Makhado.
Some members of the Mulambwane community say they’re opposed to the project. “I will not leave this place even if it means the government is going to arrest me. This is where I grew up,” 86-year-old Wilson Sithagathaga told Mongabay.
In 1946, Sithagathaga and the rest of this community were forcibly removed from Mulambwane by the apartheid government, making way for white-owned cattle and game ranches. They returned in 2008 after making a successful land claim and say they haven’t been adequately consulted over being displaced a second time.
The project has also been criticized for its environmental impact, including the destruction of baobab, mopane and other valuable trees, and pollution of air and water supplies.
“Reports presented in the public participation meetings had no concrete evidence as to how the department would deal with water security, pollution, climate change and other related issues,” said David Tshidzumba, an environmentalist who attended public consultations for the special economic zones as a member of campaign group Save Our Limpopo Valley Environment (SOLVE).
Mulambwane community members told Mongabay they were excluded from meaningful consultation over environmental and social impacts as meetings and technical documents were available only in English, which few locals understand well. They also lacked transport to attend meetings held in the nearby towns of Louis Trichardt and Musina, or the provincial capital, Polokwane.
“We are entitled to a permanent home,” Sithagathaga said. “We cannot again lose this land for the second time after being forcibly removed around the 1940s. This is our land. Our forefathers’ graves are on these farms. We need our next generation to really know who we are.”
Shell at center of yet another oil spill in Nigerian community
EBUBU, Nigeria — Residents of a Nigerian community that recently won a 30-year-long legal battle for compensation for pollution by oil giant Shell have reported a new oil spill.
Residents and local activists say crude oil spilled from a pipeline at Ebubu, in the Ogoniland region, on Feb. 10, but the scale of the damage remains unclear.
In a statement, Shell confirmed an incident had occurred. “We are working with industry regulators to safely contain the discharge which is on our right of way while we await the government-led joint investigation team into the cause and impact.”
In a phone interview, Idris Musa, director-general of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), told Mongabay the spill has been contained and an investigation has already been conducted. He blamed “vandals” and said only “four barrels” of oil had been discharged into the environment. “It is a new pipeline; they went and vandalized it,” he said.
Mongabay could not independently verify the details, but Alex Akori, a spokesperson for the influential Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, earlier criticized NOSDRA for failing to disclose the cause or extent of the spill.
“What is most important at this moment is to cooperate with the relevant authorities to stop the spills and restore normalcy and we urge the affected communities to support genuine efforts of all parties involved to address the spills,” Akori told Sweet Crude Reports, an oil industry newsletter, on Feb. 14.
Getting oil firms to clean up or pay for environmental crimes in Nigeria can be challenging, and legal claims for compensation can take years. Ebubu and a neighboring community, Ejama, suffered a major spill during the 1967-1970 civil war. Unable to get compensation via normal administrative processes, they filed a legal claim in 1991. Shell blamed third parties for the spill and launched a series of appeals, before Nigeria’s Supreme Court finally ruled in August 2021 that the company would have to pay the two communities $111 million.
Environmental NGOs flag secret deal on DRC oil block allocation
KINSHASA — A group of local and international NGOs are calling for the suspension of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s auction of 30 oil exploration blocks after it came to light that the country’s hydrocarbons minister, Didier Budimbu, had reached a secret deal to allocate two of the blocks.
In a Feb. 2 press release, the NGOs wrote that Budimbu agreed in 2021 to issue a restricted call for bidders on two oil blocks that would favor the Clayhall Group, owned by a Nigerian sports betting tycoon, Chukwuma Ayodeji Ojuroye. In exchange, Ojuroye’s company would finance geological studies by a U.S. engineering firm called GeoSigmoid.
In May 2022, Budimbu presented the pre-financing agreement to his ministerial colleagues without telling them about the oil blocks reserved for Clayhall. GeoSigmoid had already begun work, submitting geological data relating to 16 of the oil blocks up for auction to the prime minister that same month.
The NGOs concede that Congolese law allows for restricted bidding, but only if “specialized services” are required. Ojuroye’s online betting company has no specialist qualifications for oil exploration, the NGOs note, while calling for an investigation.
“The secret agreement makes a mockery of Mr. Budimbu’s global communications campaign to promote the auction as transparent,” the statement reads. The NGOs called on DRC authorities to suspend the current tender process.
Omer Kabasele, president of the Groupe de Travail Climat REDD+ Rénové, a coalition of civil society groups working in defense of the environment, said the government urgently needs to publish the agreement in full.
He said oil and natural gas deposits can be exploited, but only in strict compliance with measures to protect the environment, the rights of local populations, and biodiversity. “Because we can’t fight climate change next to a poor community,” he told Mongabay.
Banner image: Members of the Mulambwane community under a baobab tree. Image by Bernard Chiguvare.
Bernard Chiguvare, Ini Ekott, Didier Makal, and Anna Majavu contributed to this bulletin.
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