Blinkwater for the Legal Resources Centre (LRC)

Nov 23, 2009

Mission: Blinkwater for the Legal Resources Centre (LRC)  
Date: 23 November 2009
Requesting organisation: The Legal Resources Centre (LRC)  
Location: Blinkwater, Springbok flats
Pilot: Hill van Schalkwyk

Pilot’s story of the mission
by Hill
van Schalkwyk

When I received the instruction to fly this mission I was interested about the reason.  As I work in this area I know the mining operation from a distance and from the “road” everything looked normal.  When I spoke to the photographer [Emile] he requested that the “shoot” had to be between 10h00 and 14h00!  I warned my passengers about the conditions over the Springbok flats at this time of  year and time of day  –  not the best conditions for anyone, especially if you are prone to motion sickness.  When I met my passengers at the Wonderboom airport it was around 30ºC and bumpy.

I was worried about Bongumusa as this was his first experience of light aircraft and I realized it would probably not be a good experience. But Emile assured me that he (Emile) was used to these kind of conditions as he had worked for the military as aerial photographer in the past.  Nevertheless I suggested that they each get a plastic bag from the shop at the airport …. just in case!  All I can say now is that Bongumusa did not need a plastic bag but Emile had to use both!!  Emile  must be an exceptional photographer to be able to shoot brilliant photographs at a 35 to 40º  bank angle – and use both the bags all at the same time!!!

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The area looked much worse from the air and the damage and reasons for concern are obvious. We had a clear view and got in low enough to take detailed pictures of the area and the activities on the ground. As it was the day after my 50th birthday, I used my new camcorder and documented my own video recording. But in view of the professional photographer present, I would rather not submit my attempts.

I trust this flight will bring some sense to the relevant, responsible people.

I was once again privileged to be part of an encounter to improve environmental issues in South Africa, and I  am already looking forward to my next Bateleurs flight!

Report from the passenger, by Bongumusa Sibiya

A court application was launched at the North Gauteng High Court (formerly Transvaal Provincial Division) against the Minister of Land Affairs and Anglo Platinum Mine. The aim of the application is to set aside a lease agreement that was concluded between the Minister of Land Affairs (Minister) and Anglo Platinum Mine (Anglo). The lease granted Anglo possession and rights over land which the Sekuruwe community used for agricultural purposes.

Despite the fact that the mine is situated within a walking distance from the Sekuruwe community, the community is largely unemployed and very poor. As a result it used the only source for subsistence it had – the land, which was used for subsistence farming and grazing of its stock.

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The Minister signed the lease as a ‘trustee’ of the land, on ‘behalf’ of the community. The lease was for purposes of constructing a tailings dam over the land that the community used for ploughing and grazing purposes. The lease is in no way beneficial to the community. The construction of this dam will render the community’s land useless for any agricultural purposes. As a result the community will no longer have any food security and will be worse off than when it had the land.

Anglo has started to build a tailings dam on the land. The community has been deprived of its land, its ability to continue farming, access to its only source of natural spring water, its cattle are dying and the process by which (only a few) members of the community were compensated was arbitrary and unsatisfactory. 

During the removal of the Sekuruwe community, the Mine also removed ancestral graves that were older than 60 years and, in contravention of legislation, made a complete debacle of the operation. Graves were mixed, contaminated, treated without any respect, and this process completely undermined the rights of the community, plus the rights of individuals, to human dignity.

The purpose of the flight was to take aerial photographs because the land has been fenced off from the community. No one has access to it. As a result, ground photographs could not be taken. Even if ground photography had been attempted, the photos would not have been able to show, fully, the damage that has been caused by Anglo’s construction of the dam. Therefore, it became necessary to take aerial photographs.

The flight took place on a sunny day and we had sufficient light to take clear and crisp photographs. We were fortunate in that, when we arrived at the scene, works were taking place and we managed to take photos of the earth moving equipment that Anglo was using. We took photographs of the land’s topsoil that had been moved. We also took photographs of a dried-up river carrying water from the natural spring which the community used for religious and cultural purposes. There were also photographs of trenches, furrows, channels that had been dug by the earth-moving machines. There were also landfills, rocks and other related materials for constructing a tailings dam.

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The aerial photographs have been able to show the full extent the Mine’s operations. They show Anglo’s use of earth moving equipment and other mining infrastructure. They also show the scale of the operation on the land.

The photos have been used as annexes to an affidavit that explains the situation to the Court. They will play a huge role in illustrating to the Court the destructive impact that Anglo’s operations have had on the land. They will also help us to argue that other land could have been used instead of displacing an entire community, many of whom lost their cattle and land and their only means of sustenance, without any compensation. The photographs are detailed and graphic and will help better our chances of success in persuading the Court. They are a good illustration of what is happening on the ground.

The objectives of the flight were met. We successfully took the required photographs. They are clear and of good quality. As mentioned above, they will assist us in showing the devastating impact Anglo’s operations have had on the land.

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