Alleged human rights abuses by Anglo Platinum (AP), the worlds leading producer of platinum, could spark investigations through-out South Africa’s mining industry.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said it would probe accusations by international rights watchdog, ActionAid, of forced resettlement and contamination of water supplies in communities surrounding AP’s Limpopo province mines in the north of the country.
"Some of the poorest people on earth are paying a heavy price for the global platinum boom," according to Zanele Twala, ActionAid’s country director in South Africa. "Communities, especially women, have lost their main means of survival – access to land and water. We believe this constitutes a violation of their basic human rights."
The price of platinum has in recent months breached the US$2,000 an ounce level, the high price driven by its use in catalytic converters for car exhausts and also the jewellery market. It is estimated that AP accounts for 40 percent of the metal's global supply and the company controls up to 60 percent of all known reserves.
SAHRC spokesman, Vincent Moaga, said the commission would approach the issue "on a case by case basis."
Although the private sector was not a traditional focus of the rights organisation, mining incidents relating to mine safety in 2007 had already triggered the commission to start a programme aimed specifically at corporate responsibility, Moaga told IRIN.
|If a businesses want to be sustainable they have an obligation to human rights. They have to be accountable to the communities they work in|
"If a businesses want to be sustainable they have an obligation to human rights. They have to be accountable to the communities they work in," Magoa said.
"The point of departure for the commission is its view that businesses are community stakeholders. Businesses should not only be responsible in their practices, but responsive to the contextualised challenges which specific communities may face," a SAHRC statement released earlier this month said.
According to the ActionAid report, titled ‘Precious Metal: The Impact of Anglo Platinum on Poor Communities in Limpopo’ and released last week, mining activities undertaken by AP had meant thousands of poor people in rural areas lost agricultural land - their main means of livelihood.
"They are generally offered little compensation and insufficient ways of making an alternative living. The result is not just increased hunger and poverty; it is also the destruction of a traditional way of life," the report said.
"There were so many promises," 72-year old Isaac Pila who was moved to the new township of Sterkwater to make way for open-cast mining on his land, said in the report. "There is no grazing land for the animals and my people are no longer ploughing. They promised that we would live like we did in the village, even better."
Communities close to the mines claim to have been deprived access to clean drinking water according to the ActionAid report. "Mining activities are the most likely cause of this pollution," the report said.
Mine company welcomes investigation
AP, part of the London listed mining conglomerate Anglo American, has rejected ActionAid's report and said it contained "numerous errors in addition to inflammatory statements".
ActionAid said villagers had been removed from their homes in relocation agreements signed with associations claiming to represent communities but were in fact established by AP itself. In a statement the company claimed the relocation of communities was a result of consultations and negotiations held between 1998 and 2008.
"Two separate relocations were embarked upon, the first of which commenced during the transition of democracy in SA when relocations were extremely politically charged... the second relocation... which commenced in mid-2007 and is still currently in progress has already seen some 8,000 members of the 10,000 strong communities of Ga-Puka and Ga-Sekhaolelo resettled on the basis of freely given agreement in the new Motlhotlo village," the statement said.
AP said it welcomed the SAHRC’s undertaking to fully investigate the validity of the ActionAid allegations.
As for the loss of agricultural land, AP said affected communities had access to 4,400 hectares prior to resettlement and now had access to over 9,600 hectares. "Each family was resettled to a modern brick dwelling approved by that family of an equal or greater size than they previously occupied. In addition a cash allowance to assist with incidental resettlement expenses was also provided," the mining company said in a statement.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions