ActionAid is a global movement of people working together to further human rights and defeat poverty for all.

A Systemic Inequality : Part 1

Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 09:20

Re be re bolaya mabele! [We used to harvest a lot!] “Re be re eja! [we used to eat!]”

22 Years after the election of the first democratic state and 13 years after a new mining regime was legislated in South Africa, the community of Mapela, on the outskirts of Mokopane in Limpopo, are still trapped in a system that has by most accounts, continued the legacy of apartheid and dispossession well after the promised liberation from an oppressive yolk.

In our preliminary research report entitled Precious Metals II- A systemic Inequality, we argue that this reality is not an oversight or a merely the slow maturation of a long term liberation project, but rather a systemic crises which permeates out from the very mechanisms and institutions introduced to overcome the inequality of the past.

Our report seeks to answer the question of why those who used to harvest and eat, are today less secure, more vulnerable and increasingly unable to claim their human rights.

The study was initiated by ActionAid South Africa (AASA) as a follow up to the study we did in the villages of Mokopane in 2008. During that study, AASA found a number of human rights violations against the people of Mapela villages, and who live in the shadows of the most profitable platinum mine in the world, AngloPlatinum`s Mogalakena Mine.

As a response to our study, and following an investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Anglo Platinum accused AASA of producing the report from a “particular ideological standpoint[1].  In response to our report the SAHRC, in their report on the human rights situation facing the communities of Mapela, the then Chairperson of the SAHRC , Jody Kollapen , argued that the “impact of business can…not always be determined at one point in time like a snapshot, but is often more accurately reflected over a period of time.

It was for this reason that AASA sought to engage a credible academic institution to provide a balanced and nuanced account of the impacts of Anglo`s operations on the communities of Mokopane. The findings confirm our concerns that not only is the mining regime in South Africa grossly skewed against the interests of communities who host mining operations, but also confirms that over the intervening period, that the conditions for the communities of Mapela have not improved but in most instances deteriorated, while our constitutionally mandated institutions sit by and allow the continued violations of human rights. The community of Mapela 

The research study by the Society Work and Development Institute (SWOP) of the University of Witwatersrand “investigated the impact of Anglo American Platinum’s (Amplats) Mogalakwena mine in the Langa Mapela traditional authority area in the Limpopo province, South Africa. It focussed on livelihoods, food security and the environmental rights”. The report goes on to say “we also investigated the efforts by local communities to defend and reclaim these rights in the face of mining expansion. We connected these broader issues to specific sub-themes such as: customary rights and traditional authority, multiple and differentiated livelihoods and post-resettlement experiences. The study took place between March and May 2015 (more than two months) in four villages near to the Mogalakwena Mine in the Mapela area. We used different research methods, including a small-scale survey, life histories, organisational and institutional interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs) to explore the highlighted themes. This is a summary of our key findings:

    • Evidence presented by the ethnographic material suggests that many people in the study villages have lost access to land as a result of mining, particularly ploughing fields and grazing land. 
    • In the villages located close to the mine, there are strong complaints about the environmental impacts of the mine. Air pollution and damage to houses
    • Intermittent water supply is a challenge in all four study villages. Many residents associate this challenge with the impact of the mine.
    • Ethnographic material also revealed that families that were relocated by the mine in 2007 have been separated from the graves of their loved ones.. As a result, many members of the families that were relocated feel displaced and culturally violated. 
    • Our findings also suggest that relocation has led to marginalisation of other social categories, particularly the youth and women.
    • The central role of land-based livelihoods has been undercut by the mine-related land displacements.
    • The adverse impact on agricultural activities in these villages is acutely prominent with respect to the cultivation of large ploughing fields which has become virtually collapsed while cultivation of homestead gardens has invariably shrunk.
    • The livelihood crisis experienced by rural households in the Mapela area, to a large extent, manifests itself in the inability of rural households to grow their own food which has resulted in widespread food insecurity.

We believe that the findings of this research, which indicates a livelihoods and food security crises in a once self-sustaining community 7 years after our Human Rights Institutions were called upon to intervene, and 22 years after the advent of a democratic dispensation, reflects a much deeper and systemic crises.

In subjecting our case for the Mokopane/Mapela case study to be read as a systemic failure to wider scrutiny, we invited Dr. Sarah Malotane Henkeman, an independent conflict and social justice researcher/practitioner, and a Senior Staff Associate of the Centre of Criminology in the Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town (UCT) , to test our assumptions in this regard. In her written response to our request Dr. Henkeman states that “[a]fter studying the ActionAid document on Mokopane, I agree that there is a case to be made for a combination of symbolic violence, structural violence, and structural human rights violations; and how this combination of micro-macro factors play out in the everyday, lived experiences of people in Mokopane”. Dr Henkeman goes further to state that; “Paul Farmer et al (2006, 449) articulates the notion of structural violence best, from a grounded perspective, based on his work in Haiti.  This is helpful with regard to understanding the case of the Mokopane community in both the national and global context.  He suggests that:

“Structural violence is one way of describing social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way… The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world; they are violent because they cause injury to people … historically given (and often economically driven) processes and forces conspire to constrain individual agency. Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social progress.”

We hope through this report and in the following series of articles to focus the attention of the key stakeholders and the public on the systemic and structural failures which led to this continuing crisis, in the hope that the values of our constitution and respect for human life and dignity will eventually trump the sole pursuit of profits

[1] AngloPlatinum, 2008.The Facts. http://www. (accessed 09.04.2010.).