Sefiti, 48, born in Monametsi Village, has lived in the shadow of the mines for most of his life. In 1995, he began work as a winch operator at Bekoni Platinum Mine’s UM2 vertical shaft, where he would remain for the next 16 years. Sefiti was skilled in his operation of the winch, but in 2011, a split-second occurrence resulting from the smallest oversight saw his hand wrenched from his arm and his life left in ruins.
In the intervening years the healing process has been slow. Pain and discomfort, and at times, depression, have plagued him. Sefiti remains frustrated and angry at what happened. His treatment at the hands of his employers hasn’t helped, and he is particularly saddened that no mine personnel ever came to visit him in hospital. “The problem with the mine,” he says, “is they don’t care about their workers, they only want you if you are physically strong. Once injured or crippled they don’t care about you.” After receiving a letter terminating his employment, Sefiti approached the CCMA, who took up his case, and won an agreement from the mine that they would keep paying him a monthly salary up until retirement. Sefiti is currently in training for another job at the mine that involves, among other activities, packing overalls.
Sefiti Johannes Makgopa, 48, Monametsi Village, Tipeng Section, Limpopo, Eastern Limb
Passionate and outspoken, espousing views that some might deem controversial, Tshepo, 39, is a self-described AMCU “worker organiser” at a platinum mine in the area. When the Marikana strikes erupted in August 2012 on the Western Limb near Rustenburg, the air of unrest spread across the platinum belt, with mining communities as far as the Northern and Eastern Limb taking up protest action of their own. Feeling compelled to show solidarity with his comrades and fellow miners, Tshepo helped transport AMCU committee members to the unfolding strikes that had already taken the lives of several striking miners, police and security personnel. He believes this is what may have led mine officials into thinking he was a threat to mining operations.
A few months later, on his arrival at work, Tshepo says that he was seized by mine security and paraded as a criminal and enemy of the mine. In a state of bewilderment, Tshepo assured them he held no mining property in his possession. Mine security and HR personnel proceeded to question Tshepo about the guns and explosives allegedly in his possession that were stolen in 2012 at Marikana and were to be used in an attack on the mine. He protested his innocence to no avail, as police waiting outside the gates took him into custody. After searching his vehicle and finding nothing, they drove to his home, where his wife and three-month-old child were resting. Tshepo describes how they “barged in” and how “with my hands tied, they beat me”. Dogs and police searched top to bottom. Again, no guns or explosives were found, but they did find marijuana and alcohol. Tshepo was taken to the mine barracks where he was choked and forced to write a letter stating his plans to bomb the mine. He was threatened with arrest for possession of marijuana – a charge he was willing to accept – but refused to sign the letter.
Soon after the incident, Tshepo opened a case against the officers, but nearly four years later, no charges have been brought against them. Indeed, in 2016 police and mine security targeted his home once again, this time damaging property and beating a tenant who was renting a room in the house. No explanation was given as to why they were there or what they wanted.
Tshepo Highlight Khoza, 39, AMCU Worker Organiser, Monametsi Village, Monametsane Section, Limpopo, Eastern Limb
Semose was about to start his morning shift as a Rock Drill Operator at Bokoni Platinum Mine when he received the news: his little boy had been knocked over on the Brakfontein mine road. He arrived at the roadside to find his son Mogomotsi Shauwn Maimela, 13, and nephew Chester Mokgotho, 17, lying on the ground. They were both pronounced dead at the scene. Mogomotsi and Chester had been on the way to collect water when a large dump truck, transporting stone from Bokoni’s Brakfontein Shaft to the mine’s plant, had collided with them. There were whispers that the driver of the vehicle had been drinking at the time – something Semose was unable to confirm as the truck’s driver was nowhere to be found.
The following day the family met with mine authorities, who assured Semose and Katlego that the mine would help pay for the burial of the two boys. They covered the cost of food, caskets and tombstones including a Sangoma (traditional healer) who would transfer the souls from the scene of the accident to their home. Additionally, a day of counselling was provided to the grieving parents. None of this did much to ease their nightmare. Both feel more could have been done to help them during those trying times – no compensation was offered nor have there been any follow up visits from mine management since the children’s burial.
Semose Phunacks Mokgotho and partner Katlego Maimela, Monametsi Village, Mokgotho section, Limpopo, Eastern Limb
House cracks, Monametsi Village, Mokgotho Section, Limpopo, Eastern Limb
Cracks have appeared in Semose and Katlego’s house due to mine blasting nearby. This is a concern for all communities across the platinum belt where mining operations have been set up in close proximity to people’s homes.
Mine waste disposal, Monametsi Village, Malengine Section, Limpopo, Eastern Limb
Community members of Monametsi Village gather to collect old support beams used in the foundations of underground mining tunnels. Families have become reliant on this waste for heating their homes and cooking.
Lucy’s life has never been the same since the arrival of the mines, something she has come to accept. She was relocated along with 42 other surrounding households, and now finds the Brakfontein mine road cutting through her land. The community are concerned for the safety of their women and children, many having been attacked or raped while collecting wood and water, or travelling to school. The bush that surrounds the villages is known to harbour often desperate and unsavoury migrant workers drawn by the prospect of employment on the mines. Without money to pay for electricity, for many women in the community wood is a necessity. But the risks of venturing out to collect it have seen them resort to waiting for the daily delivery of old support beams used in the foundations of underground mining tunnels. Amidst the scuffle to retrieve a few solid pieces from the platinum waist disposal dump truck as it tips its load, Lucy remarks, “Mining has some disadvantage. We get our water and wood from the mine, but there is no choice in life with mining – we must accept.”
Lucy Kodibona, 64, Monametsi Village, Malengine Section, Limpopo, Eastern Limb
The Brakfontein mine road, Monametsi Village, Malengine Section, Limpopo, Eastern Limb
Community members of Monametsane Section remember a time when water was plentiful. Now the Monametsane River is all but dried up, a small green pool of algae sitting atop this once-thriving valley where water flowed all year. Selowa, a community activist who has lived in the area his whole life, takes a drink from the murky pool, shared by cattle and humans alike. As he puts it, “What other choice do we have?”. Selowa says that since the establishment of mining operations in 1998 the water has gradually disappeared.
Monametsane River, Monametsi Village, Monametsane Section, Limpopo, Eastern Limb
Themogo and Zidan, Monametsane River, Monametsi Village, Monametsane Section, Limpopo, Eastern Limb