LHR represents the Lesethleng Village Community in an application for leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court against an eviction order granted by the North West High Court in favour of Pilanesburg Platinum Mine (PPM).  

Over a century ago in 1916, thirteen families in the Lesethleng Village Community decided to buy the farm Wilgespruit (“Modimo Mmalo”) in the district of Rustenburg. It took them about three years to raise the complete purchase price and the farm was eventually registered in 1919. In spite of being the true purchasers, the community could not be registered as the owners of the land because of the discriminatory racial laws and policies in place during apartheid. Consequently, the farm was registered in the name of Native Commissioner, who in turn held it in trust for Chief of the Bakgtala-ba-Kgafela – the overarching traditional authority presiding over the Lesethleng Village Community and about 30 other villages in the area.

The thirteen families exercised exclusive control over the farm and through successive generations used it peacefully and undisturbed for crop and livestock farming to sustain their livelihoods. However, in 2008 the community was informed that the traditional authority had acquired mining rights over the farm Wilgespruit through a company called Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources (IBMR).  Initially this did not present any serious problems until IBMR ceded its mining rights to PPM and mining operations on the farm escalated to the extent that the community was almost driven off its land. With the assistance of LHR the community successfully obtained a court order in September 2015 against the mine to urgently halt operations and restore possession of the farm to the community. However, this was only the tip of the ice-berg as the mine proceeded to obtain an eviction order against the community in 2017 allowing it to continue with mining operations on the farm.

Platinum mining has exponentially expanded into communal land in the North West in the last two decades. This mineral rich province hosts one of the world’s largest and oldest platinum mines, Anglo American and many other lucrative mining companies. Regrettably, with more communal land becoming the primary target of platinum mining expansion many rural communities’ agrarian livelihoods are also diminishing. It is of no assistance to rural communities that power over community land has been concentrated into the hands of traditional leaders by post-apartheid legislation such as the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act. Traditional leaders are considered the custodians of community land and are empowered to administer the land and resources for the community. As such, a trend has since evolved on the platinum belt whereby Chiefs have positioned themselves as mediators of mineral-led development and mining deals ostensibly on behalf of their respective tribes. However, due to a lack of accountability, transparency and serious allegations of corruption in certain cases, communities have begun contesting mining contracts signed by Chiefs based on the contention that their forefathers bought the mineral rich farms as private properties that should have been distinguished from the tribal land. The Lesethleng Village Community, for instance, challenges the validity of PPM’s mining right as they were never consulted as the true owners of the farm prior to the granting of the mining right.

PPM claims that any rights the Lesethleng Village Community had over the land were extinguished when the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela resolved to enter into a surface lease agreement with IBMR in 2008. The community contends that the consultations and resolutions should have been taken by the 13 purchasing families and not the broader Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela tribe.  PPM has further argued that in any case its rights as the mining right holder trump the rights of owners and informal land right holders. The mine stands to benefit millions if not billions of Rand from the mining but it is extremely unlikely that the community will realise any benefits. The effect of the eviction order against the community is that they will be arbitrarily deprived of their historical traditional land.

This case raises pertinent issues relating to land tenure reform and informal land rights. It exposes the fact that centralising power over communal land in the hands of Chiefs is another form of land dispossession. Instead of empowering rural black communities by securing their land rights it leaves them vulnerable to mining companies riding roughshod over their land rights.

For more information please contact Louise Du Plessis, Land Housing Programme Manager on 012 320 2943/082 346 0744 or Carol Mohlala, Media Communications Manager on 079 238 9826.