Under Le Balelo, the highest of the seven koppies that surround the green, flat plains of Kalkfontein near Steelpoort in southeastern Limpopo, Andries Masha’s eyes grow distant.
Report By Niren Tolsi
Gesturing towards the land, he said: “I walked all over here. There is no place that my foot hasn’t touched – even that mountain.”
Masha (69) is still nimble as he takes the Mail & Guardian around to a gnarled old mohlopi tree that reaches out with its branches to dominate the expanse of grass and acacia around it.
Under it, he said: “This tree is holding our history. When the government was trying to remove the community [in 1949] the people were holding their meetings here … It is where the Masha people have been meeting since the 1700s and even when the soldiers tried to bulldoze it they couldn’t.”
The army moved into the area in 1949 to remove the Bakone ba Masha ba Mokopele community to make way for white farmers after the racial rezoning of the area.
Then a young boy, Masha had, together with his family, been dumped “in the middle of nowhere with nothing”. He had returned when his father started working as a labourer for the farmer who had occupied the land a few years later.
For Masha, there is magic in the Kalkfontein valley and its surrounding koppies. He talks of a bird that arrived to inhabit the imbizo tree the day the soldiers did. It stayed until the 1970s and talked in Sesotho “to protect the land”, singing a warning whenever strangers arrived in the area. Masha also remembers heavy rain causing a large boulder to roll down the hill towards the homes of locals, only to be deflected from destruction by “a tiny pebble in its path”.
“The old magic, it’s already disappearing … it’s going with the old people,” he said, sighing.
At the family gravesite, the birth dates of the dead go back centuries. The oldest, Lengai Masha, Masha’s great-grandfather who was born in the 1700s (the exact date having faded with time), was buried on the land in 1812.
He says 60 or 70 graves will have to be removed to make way for Kameni’s offices, but he has a guarantee that his family’s gravesite, which is part of the Masha royal family, will remain.
A few kilometres away on the neighbouring portion of land known as Buffelshoek, Molemane Maimela is the fourth generation of his family to live on the farm.
His father, Madikadike Mpedi Maimela, was born and bred on the farm and died at the age of 115. His grandfather, Morwa Phaga Maimela, died at the age of 110.
His family’s subsistence existence at Buffelshoek was also disrupted when the area was given away to white farmers in the 1940s by the apartheid government. The Maimelas had stayed on as tenant labourers and, in an affidavit submitted to the Johannesburg high court to successfully stave off a 1995 eviction attempt, Molemane Maimela paints a disturbing picture of random violence, harassment and the constant threat of forced removal from the land that his family had lived on for “approximately 400 years”.
According to the affidavit, in 1994 a “certain Mr JPG Botha” had taken over the management of the farm and told Maimela to pay a monthly rental of R5 for each cow he owned.
“One afternoon, Mr JPG Botha came to my house with a firearm and started shooting randomly and thereby causing the children to run for shelter,” Maimela states in his affidavit.
In February 1994, the farm manager locked the entrance to the farm and “only reopened it during the second week of January 1995 with the instructions that we should use it to vacate the farm”.
There were other events of violence and attempted evictions, but Maimela, his wife Maria, their children and grandchildren remain on the farm.
There are about 30 families living on Buffelshoek, but the Maimelas are one of three families who are considered part of the Tau and Maimela communities that the land claims commission has settled with as the rightful owners.
The majority of the other claimants from these communities live across a steel bridge in a township that forms part of the Greater Tubatse municipality.
Impala Platinum has been prospecting in the area, but according to the 86-year-old Maimela “all of a sudden they introduced us to Kameni. They promised us good things, but we are frustrated because they don’t give us any details [about the mining deal].”
Philemon Maimela, Molemane Maimela’s nephew, who also has a farm at Buffelshoek, said “we don’t have a geological report from Kameni. There has been no disclosure of the potential for the mine, [which] is critical. The other issue is the lease agreement. We have not agreed on anything yet.”
Molemane Maimela says the community – divided between those who live at Buffelshoek and those who live in the township – “are not breathing with one nose. We live here and will be directly affected. So we want more information, but the majority of the community wants the mining to happen quickly so that there are jobs and money from the mining.”
There is intensive mining by other companies on lands around Kalkfontein and Buffelshoek and, according to the locals, the top groundwater has dried up. The mines are pumping water from underground and, according to the elderly Maimela, Impala Platinum “have checked the healthiness of the [surface] water around here. It is not healthy. It is being contaminated by those above us near the springs. Already our cattle are affected. The rest of the community does not realise things like this.”
The Masha community are as divided. Part of the community has sided with the Communal Property Association – of which Andries Masha is the chairperson – that has signed a lease agreement with Kameni to receive just more than R16 000 a month for the community.
He says the agreement was signed because people are impatient for the mining to start because they are desperate for jobs.
Another faction, led by traditional leader Kgoshi Lengwane Masha, is contesting Andries Masha’s validity as chairperson of the association and the deal he struck with Kameni. It is alleged that there are other agreements with other mining companies in the pipeline for use of the land.
Although Andries Masha is nostalgic for a time “when we were living here very nicely; we didn’t struggle and never went hungry because we had our crops and livestock”, he is realistic about the fact that “you can’t run away from the mining”.
“The [white] farmers came here and took this rich place from us, the mines have come and they take the minerals and they do nothing for us while the government sits back … They told us there is number one platinum here … but we suffer here, and we will continue to suffer here like people who have nothing on their lands.” -Mail&Guardian