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The Bapong community in Rustenburg, North West, is worried that the continued operation of open cast mining by Samancor in their area will result in their environment, lives and properties being destroyed. They say a few years back when the previous company closed the mine and left a dump, Samancor, another mining company then decided to take over and turned it into an open cast mine in the belief there was still a lot of chrome to dig up.

Their only health facility, Bapong Community Health Centre, is on the verge of collapse as underground water from the mine has turned the surface of the clinic into something which looks like a wetland. They say this is weakening the foundation of the clinic. The catchment area of the clinic extends to the wider Greater Sibanye Community (GSC) which includes the towns of Maditlhokwa, Wonderkop, Majakaneng and Marikana. The clinic was built by Lonmin as part of their Social Labour Plan (SLP) more than 10 years ago. It provides the community with key primary healthcare services such chronic illness treatment and maternity services.

“The surface is never dry because of the water underneath. We fear soon the clinic will cave in and submerge. Walls are already cracking. This is very scary,” says one of the concerned residents, Barbara Modiselle.  

One of the local contractors, Paul Moatshe who recently worked on the clinic installing septic tanks confirms the clinic is under threat. He says the underground water was never a problem before when the mine dump was still unused. “This started sometime last year when Samancor started working on the dump site. I could not dig more than 2 meters. The water would come out forcefully. Every two hours I had to make a plan and drain it. It was very difficult to complete the project,” he says.

Barbara Modiselle explaining that the ground near the clinic has turned into a wetland.

“On top of that is environment and the people’s health that is at risk. You can see with your naked eye that this is not natural water. It is too toxic with chemicals. The soil and the plantation around here is at risk. Sometime there would be heavy funny smell coming out,” says Christinah Mudau from the Defenders for the Environment and Human Rights Violation in Africa (DEHRVA).

Another activist in the community of Bapong, Moipone Tabi says they are failed by their leader: “They’ve got chiefs around, councillors and even department of minerals resources and energy while this problem persists. Now the community is left on their own to hold mining companies accountable.” She says the legislation is very clear on environmental assessments, rehabilitation and SLP obligations but most of the time companies don’t comply or simply refuse to.

“Most painful is the local youngsters who are languishing on the streets as companies employ people from outside. Also when you see them building a road you must know that is only to enhance their operation. We also need to make this very clear: integrated development plans from municipalities cannot be used interchangeably with SLPs to absolve companies on their SLP obligations,” she said.

Deputy chairperson of the clinic health committee at Bapong Community Health Centre, Thato Thabane says it has been less than a year since their election and for them to be talking openly on this matter shows its seriousness and the need for urgent intervention. He says he recently tried to reach out to one of the managers at Samancor but was rebuffed. “We are not going to stop there. I’ll go there physically to raise this matter again.” He says even the maintenance of the clinic is a serious challenge. At the moment there is only one groundsman looking after the entire clinic. Cutting knee-length grass is not going to be easy.

The area councillor of ward 25 says the problem at the clinic is not the underground water from the mine but the sewage system of the clinic which is faulty. “The mine has since stopped the operation, so I don’t think that’s the cause,” she says, declining to comment further and deferring to the municipal spokesperson whom we could not reach at the time of going to press.   

Elitsha reached out to Samancor but they had not responded by the time of publication.