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)

The Women of Marikana invite you to bear witness to their lives

 


SIKHALA SONKE: The Women of Marikana i
nvite you to bear witness to their lives in Marikana in August 2014

Re: site inspection and speak out by the women of Marikana, 12 August 2014

WHAT? A site inspection of Wonderkop, Marikana followed by a brief speak-out in which the women of Marikana and widows will testify to their ongoing pain and experience of injustice. They will talk about what they want to change in their lives.WHO? Ministers and Parliamentarians, the Office of the Premier in the North-West province, representatives of Chapter Nine bodies, prominent civil society leaders and cultural workers.

WHEN? Tuesday 12 August at 11am outside the main entrance to the Wonderkop Stadium.

Nearly two years has passed since the massacre of striking mineworkers in Marikana on 16 August 2012. Media and public attention has since been focused on the Farlam Commission and, more recently, on the five-month plus strike action on the Platinum belt. Eyes have long been turned away from day-to-day life in Marikana, and the distant rural villages and towns from which some of the mineworkers, killed in the massacre, originate and where their surviving families remain.

As we approach the two year anniversary of the Marikana massacre, it is an appropriate time to ask:

–     Are the Lonmin workers and community members living in conditions any better than two years ago? What has Lonmin done to improve lives? What has the local municipality done?

–     What justice has there been for the widows of Marikana and the families of the mineworkers that were killed? Has there been any compensation for their grievous losses? How are these families being supported by Lonmin and government?

–     Do workers and the community feel that justice has been served in the past two years?

The women of Marikana – organised as Sikhala Sonke – invite you to bear witness to their living conditions, their continued suffering and their acute feeling that justice for workers, for widows, for the community as a whole has not been served.

Please RSVP or send your queries to sikhalasonkejustice@gmail.com. You may also phone ThumekaMagwangqana on 084 714 0111.

We look forward to meet you on the 12th August in Marikana,

Sikhala Sonke

 

SIKHALA SONKE: The Women of Marikana

Site Inspection and Speak Out, 12 August 2014

Programme

10:30am           Gather at tent erected close to the Wonderkop Stadium, Nkaneng, Marikana

11:00am           Welcome, why we are here and outline of programme for the day (Sikhala Sonke)
Bishop Jo Seoka – opening words and prayer

11:15am            Depart for site inspection (Sikhala Sonke)

12:15pm            Conclude site inspection at assembly point
Testimonies from women and widows of Marikana
Remembering Paulina Masuhlo (Sikhala Sonke and family of Paulina Masuhlo)
Reading of Sikhala Sonke letters to government

1:00pm            Responses from invited guests and other organisations gathered in solidarity
Reading messages of solidarity

1:50pm            Closing words and prayer – Bishop Paul Verryn
Refreshments and departure

 

(Photo Credit: Sikhala Sonke – Mama Marikana)

 

 

Women in mining communities say NO to devastation

 

In December 2013, an event in London claimed to honour `Women in Mining.’ It did quite the opposite. WoMin brings together women in mining communities from across the African Continent. WoMin joined with others in the International Women and Mining Network to protest the event and its logic. Here’s the statement we distributed in London.

Statement from WoMin

WoMin, an Africa-wide regional platform of well over three dozen organisations representing peasant women or working with women directly impacted by the extractives industries, stands with sister organisations in other parts of the world in our campaign against this Women in Mining ‘women-washing’ project that conceals the devastating impacts of mining on many millions of poor women across the Global South and North.

This project paints an appealing veneer over the realities by pointing to the benefits and successes enjoyed by an infinitesimally small number – one hundred – of women the world over. In sub-Saharan Africa women produce 60-80% of food consumed in rural households and so when lands are grabbed and polluted by the mining industries it is the women who pay first.

When waterways and underground supplies are polluted by toxic chemicals and community members fall ill, it is women that must carry the burden of searching for safe water and caring for the ill. When families are divided through the system of migrancy that is integral to the mining industries in Southern Africa especially, it is women from the labour sending areas that must reproduce families with little or no support, care for husbands returning ill from the mines, and are themselves left deeply vulnerable to contracting HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases.

For these and many more reasons, we say NO to this devastating model of mining the WIM project is seeking to reinforce through its project.

We advocate and struggle for an alternative ‘model’ which protects food rights, which internalises all social and environmental costs to corporations, which operates at a smaller and less destructive scale, which privileges the developmental interests of local communities and regional interests over and above the national and international interests of corporations and the political elites aligned to them, which restores a different relationship between humanity and eco-systems and which supports the reproductive and healing labours of peasant and indigenous women. This is our vision and our call on the occasion of the WIM project launch which only serves to legitimate an industry which stands opposed to the interests and aspirations of the majority of the world’s women.

WoMin is housed in the International Alliance on Natural Resources in Africa (IANRA), a regional alliance of organisations working with communities to advance a just mining regime.

 

(Photo Credit: London Mining Network)