By Senthati Katlego Zasekhaya

In a powerful protest signified by unity and determination, over 200 members in the Bodibe Branch along with residents from Springbokpan, Itsoseng, Matile, Verdwaal, and other nearby communities in the North West province, protested against Sephaku Cement Mine from the 10th to the 13th of June.

The protest culminated in the presentation of a memorandum of demands to the mine’s management. These demands centered around the need for meaningful consultation between the mine and the affected communities, alongside the demand for a firm commitment on local employment and skills development.

“The last time we had any engagement with the mine was in 2020,” said Lebogang Sefularo, the MACUA (Mining Affected Communities United in Action) branch coordinator of Bodibe, emphasising the long-standing failure by the mine’s management to meaningfully consult with the affected community. The lack of engagement has led to a climate of mistrust and frustration among the residents. “We have been kept in the dark for too long,” added Sefularo. “We need transparency and a genuine commitment to addressing our concerns.”

High unemployment rates and lack of economic opportunities in the area have further fueled the community’s frustrations. Many residents believe the mine is not doing enough to share the wealth from the mine and to create developmental opportunities for the community, as required by their mining license conditions.

The community is calling on Sephaku Cement Mine to honour its legal obligations to provide residents with training and employment opportunities, which are crucial for the youth to build better futures for themselves and their families. They are not asking for handouts but want genuine economic opportunities to work and grow.

Despite the mine operating and extracting wealth from the area for more than 10 years, there has been no improvement or development for the community. “Since 2009, Sephaku Mine has been in our area, but it’s not beneficial to the Springbokpan village in any way,” said Sefularo. “As MACUA, we want the mines to do what is in their SLP (Social Labour Plan) (Social and Labour Plan). They bring the SLP to the community and say they will do things, and in the end, nothing is implemented in the community.”

Additional grievances included the lack of a lease agreement between the mine and the community since 2009. Instead, only resolutions concerning 100 hectares from Springbokpan and Verdwaal for commissioning the plant have been made. Moreover, there is controversy surrounding an entity called Toroshesa NPC, formed by Sephaku for the communities of Springbokpan and Verdwaal.

Although this entity is claimed to allocate a 15% shareholding to communities, questions remain about the owners of this 15% and the fact that it is controlled by Sephaku directors, casting doubt on its true community ownership.

“Those shares don’t help us in any way. We do not know how much we have or who the directors of the shares are. We do not know the people in possession of the community funds. They must bring services to the Springbokpan village,” said Maria Ngulube, the Springbokpan branch coordinator.

“Sephaku Cement Mine has committed to providing fodder to livestock farmers during winter and issued access cards for entering the mining area without induction and medical fitness tests. However, farmers report being arrested upon entering the mining area, contradicting the commitments made by the mine,” said Jerry Moatswi, the branch secretary of Springbokpan.

Ngulube stressed the lack of basic amenities in the area. “They should build a clinic; they must take care of the children in schools, build schools and maintain roads. There is nothing happening in the village,” she said.

Moatswi added: “The state of poverty that we were born in during the apartheid era should have changed because we have a mine operating in our areas by now… The mine must at least produce projects beneficial to the communities, even renovate or upgrade our school in terms of the social labour plan. Maintain the infrastructure in our village. We do not even have water.”

The protest served as a reminder of the power of community unity and the importance of ensuring that mining laws protect the interest of affected communities. The demands outlined by MACUA, and the affected communities, are crucial measures that must be taken to ensure that the community has an opportunity to benefit and develop their communities from the wealth that is being extracted from their land

The communities wait for their response with optimism, hoping it will bring the respect, transparency, and concrete actions they have long sought from Sephaku Cement Mine. The ball is now in Sephaku’s court to respond with the transparency, respect, and action that the communities rightfully deserve.

If Sephaku does not respond by the deadline of 26 June, the communities are prepared to intensify their actions, culminating in a complete shutdown of the mine’s operations. “We have extended considerable patience, only to be exploited and continuously taken advantage of,” Sefularo explained. The communities are tired and determined in their demand for change.