RESIDENTS of an impoverished community in Mpumalanga say a local mine has desecrated their graves, destroyed their water sources, and denied them grazing land in a bid to force them to make way for mining activities.
The affected residents, who live on Nooitgedacht farm in Middelburg, have accused Mafube Coal Mine of violating their right to dignity for the past seven years in an attempt to push them out of their land.
They told African Times that their houses had been damaged due to mine blasts, while their cattle no longer had access to drinking water because their water ponds had been destroyed by Mafube Coal Mine when it prepared for mining activities in 2016.
Sophie Buda, 81, and her husband, Simon Buda, 87, are among the affected residents. The couple says they and their family members owned a herd of livestock comprising more than 24 cattle and several goats. Since the Mafube Coal Mine came to Nooitgedacht farm, says Sophie, life has never been the same for the family.
Sophie says her family refused to relocate because the mine offered them a paltry R10 000, and a smaller plot with no similar grazing land.
“When the mine blasts, our houses are cracking. Life is no longer enjoyable here, but we have no choice. We requested them to give us a big plot where we can build a big house and a kraal as well as a grazing area for the cattle,” said Sophie.
Sophie’s daughter, Rose Buda, supported her parents’ decision not to relocate. She has urged Mafube Coal Mine to do right by her family and give them a piece of land big enough to accommodate their livestock.
“We tried in vain to convince the mining firm to do the right thing, but they refused. Before the mining company arrived, we had a reservoir that was a great source of water, but it was destroyed. Now we only survive on water that is rarely being supplied by the lorry from the municipality,” Rose said.
The Bhuba family is among several families who have refused to relocate and accused the mine of trampling on their rights. They include the Ntulis, Sitholes, Skhosanas, Matshikas, Mahlangus and Matshiyanes. The families have been fighting running battles with mine for years over forced relocation, relocation fees, grazing land and homes that have been damaged by mine blasts.
They said while some residents agreed to relocate, the mine had subjected them to abusive and intolerable conditions for refusing to leave on its terms. This included dust, cracked homes and dying livestock due to a lack of water.
Solly Masilela, the founder of Vulamehlo Kusile Foundation, an advocacy group fighting for the rights of farm dwellers across Mpumalanga, said Mafube Coal Mine refused to give the Buda family and others what they wanted.
“It is true that we are assisting the families. On the matter involving the Buda family, we confronted the mine, but they refused to give the family what they wanted, so we are now in the process of taking the legal route,” he said.
At least 26 members of the affected families have now sought the help of lawyers to try and fight for their rights. In a lawyer’s letter sent to the mine and seen by African Times, the residents accused Mafube Coal Mine of violating their right to dignity by desecrating their graves, destroying water sources and denying them grazing land.
Their lawyer, Toney Mathe, from the Marweshe Attorneys, said in a letter to Mafube Coal Mine that the mine also allegedly discriminated against black residents of the farm by offering them smaller relocation fees than their white neighbours. He accused the mine of violating his clients’ right to human dignity, the right to freedom of movement and the right to security.
“The mine was offering a smaller house, moving transportation and R10 000. 00 for our clients on condition that they agree to move and sign some documents which are kept by the mine. This instruction from the mine was advanced in 2018. The family’s way of life would be negatively affected in that their family structure would be broken if other members were moved to different homes, which is something they are not used to,” said Mathe in the lawyer’s letter.
“Our clients refused to be moved over such a small amount which was a mockery compared to the amount which was received by a white neighbour Mr Louis Botha. This is obviously prejudicial and discriminatory in that black people were expected to move for a very small amount compared to what was offered to their white counterparts.”
Mathe also accused Mafube Coal Mine of subjecting the Budas and other families to inhumane and abusive treatment in retaliation for their refusal to relocate. This includes blasting without any prior notice, thus threatening the lives of the residents, the majority of whom are children and the elderly, and permanently disconnecting the water pump for the area of Nooitgedacht.
“Their livestock are dying as a result of this water scarcity which was deliberately orchestrated by you to force the removal agreement from our clients even if it meant obliterating their family. So far, our clients have lost four cows and three goats; the roads leading to the graveyards of the relatives of our clients have been closed with big gates and fences, and they have not been able to clean the graves and perform their cultural rituals in connecting with their dead amongst other things; blasting is taking place 4 kilometres from the graves instead of 5 as envisaged by the law; and there is a new road that was constructed by the mine on top of one grave while other graves are being destroyed and the marks for identity are getting damaged and removed by the mining activities,” Mathe added.
He also said that his clients had also been advised of Mafube Coal Mine’s plans “to close a gravel road from Sikhululiwe Village which leads to their farm”, which meant that “our clients will not have access to their normal commuting route in order to get to the clinic and stores to do their shopping”.
In the letter, dated June 28, 2023, Mathe also gave the mine 10 days to restore clean water and return their graves or face legal action.
Mafube Coal Mine spokesperson Tarryn Genis acknowledged receipt of Mathe’s letter but would not be drawn into its contents. “Mafube Coal confirms receipt of the correspondence and are working towards compiling a response to Marweshe,” said Genis.
Mafube Coal Mine representative Mpumi Sithole confirmed that negotiations were underway between the Buda family and the mine’s officials.
“A total of four members of the Bhuda family have been successfully resettled as per the agreement reached between Mafube Coal and the family members. Engagements to reach an agreement with the rest of the Bhuda family are ongoing,” said Sithole.
Sithole said the signed agreements contain livelihood restoration programmes and land availability for those households who require land use for agricultural activities.
She confirmed that out of 181 households, only 88 agreed to relocate to the neighbouring Sikhululiwe Village and Samrose Village.