Why Ga-Mapela residents are burning up their small Limpopo town

Hebron Protest

Over the past week, residents of Ga-Mapela in the Limpopo province took to the streets and to social media to voice their grievances with Anglo American Platinum’s Mogalakwena Mine. Protestors say the mine offers little to benefit the community; officials say this is no reason to start burning down the town. FIRDAUS KHAN explains why residents are up in arms.

The Anglo Platinum Mogalakwena mine in Mapela has been operating for the past 25 years. Communities, schools and even cemeteries have been moved to make way for it. But much of the community surrounding it remains poor and jobless. Residents say they do not benefit from the growth and wealth of the mines. They’re demanding that the mines employ those who live in the area, to help empower Mapela and its people.

Lawyer to the protesters, Letlhogonolo Gaborone, told The Daily Vox that all the protesters want is to negotiate with the mine, so that they too, can benefit from mining in the area.

The protesters are also up in arms about their children being moved from Seritarita Secondary School in Mapela to a school in a neighbouring village. Reports say the move was necessary as it would ensure that children would not be harmed by mine blasting. The children were later moved again to a school set up by the mine. However, schools are now closed as a result of the protests, and residents are unable to go to work because public transport is out of service. Shops, too, have been closed for days.

Mokete Khoda, an activist in Mapela, described the situation as “a total shut-down”.

“The government hasn’t come. We have our mayor and councillors; they haven’t come to our community to actually even assist us,” he said.

Mokete said one of the community’s key grievances is that it would like to be consulted about new developments.

“We have some buildings that have been built by the mines, but we don’t know who the mines have actually consulted. We just wake up one day and find people building something, but in the end, we don’t know who has been consulted,” he said.

The community has since taken to destroying some of the buildings, including a local chief’s house, a tribal office and a retirement home built by the mine.

Police have responded to the protests with arrests and rubber bullets. According to Limpopo SAPS spokesperson Colonel Ronel Otto a total of 36 people have been arrested on charges of malicious damage to property and public violence, with four others arrested on charges of inciting violence.

Nine people, including a pregnant woman, are reported to have been injured so far but Otto denied this, saying that only one injury has been reported. “Nobody was shot,” she said. “Throughout the week, we’ve had to make use of rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd. On Friday, one woman was injured on the foot by a rubber bullet. Never ever did we use live ammunition, and the woman was only injured slightly.”

Otto said police are maintaining a strong police presence in the area and are in “continuous talks” with representatives from the mines, traditional leaders, the mayor’s office and the municipality.

On Tuesday, the protesters’ lawyer, Gaborone, said all the arrested protesters have been released on bail.

“They were given bail because firstly, there was a huge number that would be incarcerated, the police station can’t cater for more than 60 people who have been arrested – and also because it makes practical sense and their addresses are known,” he said.

One Mapela resident told The Daily Vox that the media has been largely ignoring the protests. “We’ve been calling the SABC to come, but they haven’t come,” she said.

– Featured image via of a protest in Hebron last year, by Wesley Fester on Flickr.