In Thailand, seven women said NO! to gold mining contamination and intimidation … and won!

Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong and Suphat Khunna

Yesterday, in Thailand, a court ruled that seven rural women activists – Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong and Suphat Khunna – are innocent of accusations of having organized an illegal assembly and of having coerced individuals to act against their will. Those charges stemmed from a meeting in November 2016, but the story goes back much further and radiates far beyond the Loei Province, in northern Thailand. It’s another story of local women, in this case local rural women organizing, organizing, organizing, no matter the odds, no matter the enormity of the opposition … organizing, organizing, organizing … and winning!

The Tongkah Harbour Public Company Limited has been around since 1906. In 1907, the company started offshore tin mining. Today, the company is involved in all sorts of mineral mining and in real estate. In 1991, the Tongkah Harbour Public Company founded Tungkum Limited, with the express purpose of mining gold in Loei Province, in northeastern Thailand. Loei Province is one of the most sparsely populated areas of Thailand, an area described as idyllic. In 2003, the Thai Ministry of Industry gave Tungkum the green light, and mining began.

What followed was an altogether familiar tale of mining and environmental contamination and devastation. What had been a hard life became an impossible life and then death-in-life, another instance of necropolitical economic development. Thanks to leaks from the mines, rarely controlled, rarely admitted to by the company, rarely investigated by the State, local water and soil started showing high levels of arsenic, manganese, chromium, cyanide, mercury and cadmium. None of this was unexpected. These are by-products of gold mining and, if improperly contained, they will poison the surrounding communities of people and the environments in which they dwell.

Local communities formed Khon Rak Ban Kerd, People Love their Hometown, KRBK. From the beginning, Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong, Suphat Khunna, Mae Rot and other women have been the central driving force for the organizing effort. They have withstood armed attacks, lawsuits, public defamation, and all forms of available intimidation. They have responded with rallies, blockades, petitions, and organizing. In November 2016, Wiron Rujichaiwat, Lamplern Ruangrit, Mon Khunna, Pornthip Hongchai, Ranong Kongsaen, Bunraeng Srithong, Suphat Khunna were invited to a meeting to discuss their views. When they arrived, with their friends, they were accused of blocking access to the meeting place and of unlawful assembly. This week, the court decided that, instead, the seven women had “innocently expressed their opinions, which is within their basic rights under the system of democracy.”

Their lawyer, Teerapun Phankeeree, said the women “are likely to continue to oppose the mining operations … The community not only wanted the company to stop operating, they wanted the company and government agencies to restore the environment, as well.” One of the activists, Pornthip Hongchai, explained, “There is still contamination within our six villages surrounding the mine. No officials or any department have come to seriously fix or address the problem yet. Villagers know that the water is contaminated and we have to be careful and look after ourselves. We still have to buy water to drink and cook with. We’ve been buying water since 2009 when there was a public health announcement.” As Mae Rot explained, “We have nowhere else to go. This is our land and we have been here for a hundred years. We have a right to live peacefully. We can’t eat the food we grow, we can’t drink the water. All we can do is keep fighting for justice. We pray to our ancestors in the mountains for help. Recently the miners drilled but found nothing. Maybe our ancestors are listening.” Maybe the ancestors are listening, and maybe the world as well. In Thailand, seven rural women said NO! to gold mining contamination and intimidation, said NO! to some of the most powerful men and organizations in the world, said YES to democracy … and won!

 

(Photo Credit: The Nation) (Video Credit: YouTube / CIEE Khon Kaen)

In Guatemala, 12 Q’eqchi’ women say NO to the violence of mining and may change the world

Angelica Choc, at the grave of her husband, Adolfo Ich Chamán

Angelica Choc, Margarita Caal Caal, Rosa Elbira Coc Ich, Olivia Asig Xol, Amalía Cac Tiul, Lucia Caal Chún, Luisa Caal Chún, Carmelina Caal Ical, Irma Yolanda Choc Cac, Elvira Choc Chub, Elena Choc Quib, Irma Yolanda Choc Quib are Q’eqchi’ Mayan women who live in El Estor, located on the northern shores of Lake Izabal, Guatemala’s largest lake. The Q’eqchi’ Mayan populations suffered during the long civil war, and then came “peace”, which meant further marginalization and exclusion, and then came the multinationals. There’s nickel in the ground under El Estor. Despite a ban on open pit mining, the Guatemalan government gave a 40-year lease and a promise of “stability” to a company owned by a Guatemalan company owned by a Canadian company owned by an even larger Canadian company, being Hudbay Minerals. “Stability” meant evicting the Q’eqchi from their ancestral lands. “Eviction” meant mass rape and murder.

On January 17, 2017, eleven Q’eqchi’ women were raped by security forces “removing” them from their homes and lands. In 2009, community leader, teacher and father of five Adolfo Ich Chamán was brutally murdered. His widow, Angelica Choc, sued Hudbay Minerals. In a separate case, Margarita Caal Caal, Rosa Elbira Coc Ich, Olivia Asig Xol, Amalía Cac Tiul, Lucia Caal Chún, Luisa Caal Chún, Carmelina Caal Ical, Irma Yolanda Choc Cac, Elvira Choc Chub, Elena Choc Quib, Irma Yolanda Choc Quib sued Hudbay Minerals for its involvement in their rape. In both cases, Hudbay Minerals was sued in Canadian courts. That makes these landmark, precedent setting cases. The cases are yet another testament to the courage and persistence of women saying NO to the seemingly inevitable devastation of mining corporations.

Canada is home to a majority of the world’s mining companies. In 2014, Canadian exploration and mining companies had overseas mining assets worth $170 billion in 100+ countries. When it comes to mining in Latin America, “Brand Canada” is toxic. According to a recent report, between 2000 and 2015, 28 Canadian mining companies were directly involved in 44 deaths, 30 of which were “targeted”; 403 injuries, 363 of which occurred during protests and “confrontations”; and 709 cases of “criminalization.” The violence was spread across Latin America: deaths happened in 11 countries; injuries in 13, criminalization in 12. Again, these figures are for Canadian mining companies in Latin America, 14 countries all told. Of those, only Argentina, Chile and Guyana had no deaths. Guatemala led the pack with 12 deaths; followed by Mexico with 8 and Colombia with 6.

Twelve Q’eqchi’ Mayan women refused to accept the violence as part of the natural order. They refused to submit to intimidation and worse. In 2010, with Toronto-based attorneys, the women initiated lawsuits in Canadian courts. Hudbay Minerals argued that the women had no standing in Canadian courts, and that the issue should be returned to Guatemala. In July 2013, the courts decided that the cases could go forward. This week, Margarita Caal Caal, Rosa Elbira Coc Ich, Olivia Asig Xol, Amalía Cac Tiul, Lucia Caal Chún, Luisa Caal Chún, Carmelina Caal Ical, Irma Yolanda Choc Cac, Elvira Choc Chub, Elena Choc Quib, Irma Yolanda Choc Quib gave their depositions. In January, Angelica Choc will be in Toronto to give hers.

Hudbay Minerals thought they could sweep the local women away and then bury them. They were wrong, just as mining companies have been wrong in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Peru, and so many other places. As Margarita Caal Caal explains, “In my community we are fighting for our lands and we will protect them until we die. I am here to tell you the truth.”

From left to right: Lucía Caal Ch’n, Luisa Caal Ch’n, Rosa Elbira Coc Ich, and Elena Choc Quib

 

(Photo Credit 1: Adriana Zehbrauskas/The New York Times) (Photo Credit 2: Vice/James Rodriguez/ Mimundo)

Berta Cáceres, Nelson Garcia, Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe: We must take action!

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
John Donne, “Death Be Not Proud”

Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe, chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, on the Wild Coast of South Africa, was brutally assassinated last night, and so joins Berta Cáceres and Nelson Garcia, and who knows how many others martyred in this month alone? The Amadiba Crisis Committee, largely made up of women, has been struggling to stop mining in Xolobeni, the Mgungundlovu area of Amadiba Tribal Administrative Area in Pondoland, and to continue a program of people-driven, sustainable development. The response has been a reign of fear and intimidation. Repeatedly, the women and men of Xolobeni have said, We are ready to die for this land. Last night, Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe was murdered, or better executed. It did not come as a surprise. As Nonhle Mbuthuma explained, for the last year, the police have waged a campaign of intimidation, and, when called on to stop the violence, “There has been nothing.”

Men come with guns and women respond, “My tears won’t fall on the ground for nothing. You can bring your machine guns. I am prepared to die for my land; I am not going anywhere.”

The crisis is not mining. The crisis is violence: violence against nature, women, the community, and democracy. Nonhle Mbuthuma has grown up in the struggle for a decent and better life, and for a State where one can’t say, “There’s too much `democracy’ in this democracy”; and Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe is dead, having striven to make that democracy-to-come a reality today.

It is not a reality today. Reality today is State violence, from Honduras to South Africa and beyond. As Berta Cáceres exhorted, “We must take action!” We must turn the swords of murder into the ploughshares of sustenance. Berta Cáceres, Nelson Garcia and Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe will not rise out of the earth, no matter how fervently some might pray, but their dream, their collective unified dream, cannot be killed. We must take action!

 

(Photo Credit: United Front)

My forefathers died for this land. If I’m going to die, I’ll not be the first one!

 


There’s an uprising, once again, in Pondoland, on the eastern coast of South Africa, and, as before, it concerns the violence brought on local populations by the State and its international partners, all in the name of `development’ and national improvement. This time the “resistance is distinguished by the prominence of women.”

Nonhle Mbuthuma has grown up in the struggle for a decent and better life, and for a State where one can’t say, “There’s too much `democracy’ in this democracy.” Her story goes back a ways.

From 1960 to 1962, the `peasants’ of Pondoland waged a mighty revolt against the Bantu Authorities Act and, more generally, against the ravages of apartheid on rural populations. Almost immediately after the Mpondo Revolt, Govan Mbeki researched, wrote and published South Africa: The Peasants’ Revolt, which showed the centrality of peasant and rural struggles to the national aspirations for emancipation and justice. Mbeki ended the chapter “Resistance and Rebellion” prophetically: “The Pondos paid dearly for their failure to ensure the safety and security of their forces at the height of the struggle. And in this they were not alone. Zululand and Zeerust suffered similarly, although on a smaller scale. But the people do not bear sufferings, such as they bore when the army occupied the Transkei, without becoming steeled in their determination to regroup, re-examine their methods of struggle, develop new ones, and retain the spirit that seeks forever for freedom.”

That was 1964. Forty years later, in 2004, mining companies began applying for permission to mine in the Mgungundlovu area of Amadiba Tribal Adminstrative Area in Pondoland. The area, also known as Xolobeni, boasts the second highest diversity of flora in South Africa, one of 26 places on earth with such a rich concentration of species. It’s commonly described as gorgeous, pristine and heavenly.

Local residents have been involved in developing eco-tourist sites, but the prospect of mining threatens everything. At first, people thought the mines could bring jobs and services, but discussions with other communities and the behavior of mining corporations soon disabused many of that notion. And so, in 2007, residents formed the Amadiba Crisis Committee.

The State claims the mines are good for business, even though this particular mine will only be open for 25 years, and then the agricultural and environmental economies will just have to work it out … again. Good for whose business?

The Committee argues for the environment, due process, Constitutional rights, respect for the graves of the elders, sustainable economic development. From the Committee’s inception to today, Nonhle Mbuthuma has been a leader. Throughout, Mbuthuma has taught that the Constitution protects everyone, and especially rural people because of their histories of struggle.

In 2009, Nonhle Mbuthuma made clear that an assault on the land is an assault on the people’s history: “Asilufuni Uphuhliso lwenu! [We don’t want your development!] […] If this mining takes place and the government issues a licence in this area, there will be war. There will be an uprising as it was in the [last] Mpondo Revolt.”

And this is today: “My forefathers died for this land. If I’m going to die, I’ll not be the first one.”

The Pondo Uprising continues to cast more than a long shadow across South Africa and beyond. It lives, inspired and informed by young women, like Nonhle Mbuthuma, who carry it forward and retain the spirit that seeks forever freedom.

 

(Photo Credit: Daily Maverick / Nzamo Dlamini) (Video Credit: Ryley Grunenwald / Vimeo)

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have decided to stay

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe is an indigenous small hold farmer, a woman from the highlands of northern Peru. She lives in the department of Cajamarca. In 1994, she and her husband Jaime Chaupe bought a small parcel of land to farm and to live on. They began building their home, clearing the land, preparing for the future. In 1994, Cajamarca also `welcomed’ the Yanacocha Mine, the largest open-pit gold mine in Latin America and the second most `productive’ gold mine in the world. Yanacocha is owned by Newmont Mining Corporation, a US-based company and the largest gold mining company in the world; Buenaventura, a Peruvian company; and the World Bank. Newmont owns more than half the mine. Here’s Yanacocha, 2010: “Yanacocha is Newmont’s prize possession, the most productive gold mine in the world. But if history holds one lesson, it is that where there is gold, there is conflict, and the more gold, the more conflict.” More gold, more conflict, and more company and State violence.

This is a story of the largest assaulting the smallest, and the smallest fighting back.

Although Yanacocha is the largest, Newmont wasn’t satisfied. The owners knew there was more gold, just up the road a pace. And so they launched the Conga Mine project, which would be bigger than Yanacocha. Conga promised, or threatened, to be the largest single investment in Peruvian mining history. The mine owners approached Maxima Acuña de Chaupe with an offer, which she refused. She and her family liked their farm, the region, the community, and had no interest in leaving.

That is when the assaults began. In May 2011, company representatives and police tore down the fences and smashed the Chaupe home. The family stayed. In August company representative and riot police bulldozed the Chaupe’s new home and seized all of their possessions. The family stayed. Then private security guards and police beat Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her daughter unconscious, and took her husband and son to jail. The family stayed.

And so, of course, Yanacocha sued the Chaupe family, charging them with illegal occupation. From Indonesia to South Africa to Canada to Peru, the one constant in mining is there is no irony in those killing fields. The family decided to stay: “I may be poor. I may be illiterate, but I know that our mountain lakes are our real treasure. From them, I can get fresh and clean water for my children, for my husband and for my animals! Yet, are we expected to sacrifice our water and our land so that the Yanacocha people can take gold back to their country? Are we supposed to sit quietly and just let them poison our land and water?”

In August, a judge found for the mining company, but in December, an appeals court struck down the lawsuit. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe won the battle! The small woman on her small piece of land had stopped the largest mine, one of the largest mining corporations, and one of the most intensive forms of industrial violence against people, the environment, and democracy. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe was supported by many women: her lawyer, Mirtha Vasquez; the members of Asociación de Mujeres en Defensa de la Vida (Association of Women in Defense of Livelihood) and of the Unión Latinoamericana de Mujeres – ULAM, the latter of whom named Maxima Acuña de Chaupe as the Defender of 2014.

That was December. This week, over 200 fully armed private security guards and police entered the Chaupe farm, again without any warrant or formal authorization, and tore down a second small shack the family was constructing. They held the family hostage for hours. The struggle continues. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have decided to stay.

 

(Video Credit: Vimeo / Alexandra Luna, congaconflict.wordpress.com) (Photo Credit: CommonDreams.org / Jorge Chávez Ortiz)

 

African Women Stand their Ground Against Big Coal

Every day Sonto Mabina walks past the dam to get to work. The dam is close to her house. No fence or wall prevents children from playing in the potentially toxic water, or stops the water from overflowing and flooding her house and the community.

For the past week, women from mining communities in South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe have been meeting in Johannesburg to share their experiences, strengthen their networks, map and take the way forward. They have been brought together by WoMin, African Women Unite Against Destructive Resource Extraction. They have had enough of environmental devastation, corporate predation, and State violence. They are sick and tired of living and dying in communities and households where everyone is tired, sick, and dying. And they have had enough of being ignored or silenced. They come together to say, Now is the time! They come together to make NOW the time.

In an hour long interview this week, Samantha Hargreaves, Regional Coordinator of WoMin; Nhlanhla Mgomezulu, Coordinator of the Highveld Environment Justice Network; and Susan Chilala, Secretary of the Rural Women’s Assembly, in Zambia, laid out the program. Generally, the women are calling on the State to divert its massive investments in the infrastructure of fossil fuel extraction into alternatives, particularly solar, wind, tidal, and thermal, all plentiful in the Southern African Development Community, SADC, region. All of the countries are already investing great sums of money to make mines happen. The women say: Make something else happen; something sustainable and renewable that will meet the challenge of growing consumption in growing economies.

This diversion would mean that the State would have to reconsider its comfortable relationship with those few who make huge profits at the expense of the many. This would also mean, the women said pointedly, that politicians, such as Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa, would have to address their complicity as shareholders and leaders in the mineral extractives sector.

The majority of the interview describes the impact of coal mining on local communities. Susan Chilala explained that coal mining attacks women small scale farmers most viciously. She described the impact of coal mining on farming and food security. She talked about the impact on women when their space is taken over by an industry that is so deeply male dominated, from top to bottom.

Nhlanhla Mgomezulu described the impact on women in the South African Highveld: “We women are the ones who suffer most.” Women suffer as individuals, in that their own health is endangered by poisoned water, air, and land, but they suffer even more as principal caregivers of the community. When the children are sick, women work more intensively. When the men return from the mines with asthma, kidney failure, tuberculosis, injuries and more, women are work more intensively. And this labor is `free’ and it’s 30 hours a day, 8 days a week, for life. If that’s not slavery … what is?

Last year, Greeenpeace published a report, which looked at Witbank, in Mpumulanga, in which they found that Witbank has the dirtiest air in the world. This is the gift of coal as a mainstay of `development’: “Sonto Mabina … works at a small tuck shop that’s just a short walk from her home in an informal settlement over the train tracks outside Witbank, in Mpumalanga. She’s lived here for 25 years, arriving well before the three coal washeries that now surround her house … Sonto Mabina, or Katerina as she likes to be called, lives with her husband, Andries. Their house has no electricity or water and Katerina uses a coal stove to cook their suppers, the black plumes of smoke clouding their home. A municipal truck brings water once a week, but most say it’s too polluted to drink. If you can afford to, you buy bottled water in this area of the country; if not, you boil it like Sonto does and you hope for the best. `Dust is my main problem,’ she says. `Every time my child goes to the hospital it’s because of the dust. The doctors say his chest is full of it. The doctors asked me where I lived and I told them. My other child also has problems with his nose because it is always running – the dust affects him too.’ It’s an everyday problem here.”

The women who have gathered in Johannesburg are saying NO to that everyday. They are engaging in a public dialogue, breaking down barriers, transforming isolation into community, teaching as they learn, and they are demanding a better present. Not a better future, a better present. They have lived too long with politicians and others ignoring them. They are demanding that the State take climate change, the environment, community health and wellbeing, and women seriously. African women are standing their ground and more. They are organizing and on the move. The time is now!

 

(Photo Credit: Mujahid Safodien / Greenpeace)

Outrage: The dirty, filthy Soma massacre

 

A mine exploded in Soma yesterday. Close to 300 miners are now dead. The world media sees this as tragedy, disaster, accident. Prime Minister Erdogan sees it as just one of those “ordinary things.” It’s mining, and shit happens.

No!

Across the country, through the haze of grief and sorrow, Turks are compelled by outrage and fury. They know. “This is not an accident, this is murder.” “We will not refer to it as an accident, we will call what happened a massacre.”

The ways of murdering miners are many. In this instance, it’s the crime of looking the other way, of refusing to inspect. For 19 years, Turkey has refused to sign the International Labor Organization’s No.176 “Security and Health in Mines Agreement”. The agreement places many responsibilities on the government and the employers. For 19 years of deteriorating mine conditions, the Turkish government said, “This can wait.”

Last year, a parliamentarian from the Republican People’s Party submitted a motion to investigate work-related accidents at the coalmines in Soma. All three opposition parties supported the proposal. However, the Justice and Development Party, Erdogan’s party, opposed the motion. Two weeks ago, it was rejected.

They knew the mine was a powder keg set to explode. But what are a few hundred miners in the big equation? And now, the keening women of Soma join the incandescent women of Marikana, in song and sorrow: “The love of my life is gone.”

There was no accident, disaster or tragedy. Instead, there was murder and massacre, and it was dirty and filthy. And there is outrage.

 

(Photo Credit 1: CNN) (Photo Credit 2: New York Times / Uriel Sinai)

For Nozuzile Mankayi, the struggle continues

Nozuzile Mankayi is a gold widow.

Her husband, Thembekile Mankayi, spent 1979 to 1995 working underground in the Vaal Reefs gold mine, in South Africa. In 1993, Mankayi contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. He received treatment, improved slightly, and then suffered a recurrence, and had to leave. When he left, he was paid a mere R16,000 for his troubles. In 2006, he was diagnosed with silicosis.

In 2006, Thembekile Mankayi sued AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. for 2.6 million rand. He sued for dignity. Four years later, in August 2010, the Constitutional Court heard the case. Seven months later, March 2011, the Constitutional Court decided in Thembekile Mankayi’s favor.

Thembekile Mankayi died one week before the decision was announced.

It’s been three years, and his widow, Nozuzile Mankayi, has not received a single penny.

The South African compensation system is designed to strangle and choke gold widows to death. First, they have to submit their respective partner’s bodies to a post mortem. For many families, cutting open the body is forbidden. So, women have to be prepared to withstand often intense opposition and worse.

Second, women survivors receive far less than their partners would have.

Jenni Williams, of the Women’s Legal Centre, has argued, “The women who take care of miners are doing unpaid care work. At the moment we are developing a strategy around what would be the best way to litigate around this, but for now we are saying that unpaid care work should be recognised in the context of damages claims, but also in government planning and budgeting. There needs to be recognition that women contribute towards the economy in that they are working for free, which means that there is a saving. In other words, where you had to hire a nurse to look after the sick person, you would have the wife or daughter doing this for free. In terms of this class action suit, what we are proposing is that part of the damages award is a trust that is set up that acknowledges the saving that the mining companies would have by virtue of the fact that these men’s partners and daughters are going to look after them … The court should take that into account when they look at the damages claim because the person doing the harm is actually benefiting from the woman’s unpaid care work.”

It has been said, “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important.” All the harm addresses women. When miners are attacked, in their lungs by dust and in their chests by bullets, women carry them, through the long day’s night and to the graveside. The persons doing harm benefit from that. They benefit from women’s unpaid labor and used up lives. They benefit from the tragedy of others deemed unheard and unseen: women.

Thembekile Mankayi waged a mighty campaign against predators who ultimately exploded and collapsed his lungs. Nozuzile Mankayi will not stay unheard or unseen. For her, and for the more than 200,000 former gold mineworkers and gold widows now engaged in a class action suit, the struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: Laura Lopez Gonzalez / health-e.org.za)

I was one of six young females from Chaneng who were arrested

 

Next Wednesday, in South Africa, six young women activists go on trial. They have been charged with “public violence.” Their crime was protesting peacefully, on Human Rights Day, March 21, 2013, against the physical and structural violence at the Styldrift Project, run by the Royal Bafokeng Platinum Mine. They were protesting the collusion between the local mining corporation and the South African government. Around the world, Styldrift is touted as an example of `community beneficiation.’  It’s not.

For having engaged in peaceful protest, the six young women were thrown into jail, without charge, and were held for seven days without a hearing. Those who had been wounded by rubber bullets were left untreated, and their wounds were left to fester.

Mpho Makgene has described the police brutality: “I was one of six young females from Chaneng who were arrested and a few injured by rubber bullets, while participating in a peaceful march. The youth of Chaneng took to the streets … making sure there was no movement in the village. Their voices were clear as they said ‘we won’t allow cars in and out of our village, no one goes to work’ Public Order Police blocked the group, encircled them, set off the tear gas and shot rubber bullets even in people’s yards.”

The abusive and corrosive conditions at the Styldrift Project are longstanding and well documented. Top to bottom and end-to-end corruption grows ever more intense. Police violence is rampant. Police and private security have destroyed homes, and violently evicted families. Ancestral gravesites have been desecrated. The environment has been polluted. The community has repeatedly sought help from various levels of government, to no avail. And throughout the Royal Bafokeng Platinum Mine, which purchased Styldrift through highly contested processes, rolls along with seeming impunity.

How has Styldrift benefited Chaneng? Youth unemployment is astronomically high and rising. Carbon emissions are dangerously high. As a result of emissions and dust, children suffer respiratory problems. Local water is polluted. The local health clinic is collapsing.

But the biggest concern is collusion: “All complained of the lack of jobs, the poverty despite the wealth of platinum under their land. The biggest concern for all is the collusion between their traditional authorities and the mining corporations, between the local government and the mining corporations, between the politicians and the mining corporations.”

Styldrift touts itself, to South Africa and to the rest of the world, as “a community-based investment company”, but the community only gets violence and refusal. The people of Chaneng have demanded transparency and consultation; reparations for destroyed homes and desecrated ancestral graves; employment; in short, real community investment. Instead, they have received insults, rubber bullets, and jail time. On Wednesday, Mpho Makgene and five others will go to trial. In the next two weeks, sixty-four others will be brought to trial. The mining corporation that crushes the earth thinks it can as easily crush the women. It can’t.

 

(Photo Credit: communitymonitors.net)

How many women? Ask the women of Papua New Guinea

How many women are raped in order to produce the world’s gold? How many women are chased off their land, kicked out of their own social structures, and otherwise beaten down in the pursuit of mineral resources? Ask the women of Papua New Guinea.

The Porgera open-pit gold mine in Papua New Guinea is a good old-fashioned money, and blood, pit: “The mine has a terrible reputation for both human rights abuses (rapes, beatings and killings by security personnel) and environmental damage (vast quantities of potentially toxic tailings dumped into a nearby river). But gold prices, while down from their recent peak, are still three times what they were a decade ago, so dig they must.”

The Porgera mine, owned by the Canadian company Barrick, is rich. In the last two decades, the mine has produced over 20 billion dollars worth of gold. Barrick is rich. Papua New Guinea is poor. Almost a third of the population lives in dire poverty. Around the Porgera mine, it’s worse. As happens so often around `wealthy’ mining sites, the area has experienced severe “social disintegration.” The local communities derive little benefit from the mines, and what benefit they get is slotted to the men. Gender inequality increases. Women become both absolutely and proportionately poorer and more vulnerable. Bride price and polygyny increase dramatically. Women’s status declines. Women’s customary abilities to negotiate dwindle. Abandonment of women and children rises. Domestic violence both increases and intensifies.

Three years ago, a major report investigated and confirmed repeated incidents of gang rape of local women by Porgera’s private security firm. All of the women were brutally beaten. None of the women reported the rapes. What would have been the point? Another report, this one from last year, noted: “A number of the women whose assaults had become public knowledge were stigmatised, beaten by family members or divorced by their husbands.”

The women started organizing and issued demands. What happened? At first, nothing. Then … Barrick created a “remedy program for victims”. This included “the requirement that to receive compensation, women must waive their right to sue Barrick.”

In order to get help, in order to get compensation, the women have to sign away their rights. First, Barrick denied and stonewalled for five years. Then they bullied and bullied some more, all in the name of `remedy.’ The United Nations `recommended’, and the world `condemned.’ No matter. The Barrick non-judicial grievance mechanism remains in place, opaque as ever. Here’s how one witness describes it: “Many women were not aware of the remedy program, others were suspicious of it, and we found general lack of clarity about the process. Women said that the program was being run in a language that they could not understand and that they had not been offered translation. Women said that the things they were being offered through the program were either not what they needed to address the harm they had suffered, or not compatible with culturally appropriate remedies for the type of harm they had suffered, or simply not commensurate with the harm they had suffered. The primary things these women were being offered were baby chickens to raise and second hand clothes to sell. The program seemed to be confusing small scale development programs with remedy.”

There is no confusion. The founder and chairman of Barrick explained that the sexual violence at Porgera occurred because, in Papua New Guinea, “gang rape is a cultural habit.” It never happened, we weren’t there, and anyway it’s your fault, even though it never happened. Barrick was there, Barrick is there … and in Tanzania … and … How many women? How many more women?

 

(Photo Credit: Brent Stirton/Getty Images for Human Rights Watch)