13/01/2017 20:28 SAST | Updated 13/01/2017 20:39 SAST

Residents Say Anglo-American-Owned Company Rained Rocks Down On Them

They believe Kumba Iron Ore is trying to force them to leave their homes.

Haul trucks are seen at Kumba Iron Ore, the world's largest iron ore mines in Khathu, Northern Cape Province November 15, 2011. The relocation of 517 households from Dingleton to the nearby town of Kathu began in 2014, and was meant to be completed by the end of 2016.

A handful of residents of the small town of Dingleton, near Sishen, are resisting attempts by Kumba Iron Ore to move them from their homes to make way for mining. This week rocks rained down near their houses as Kumba started blasting close to the town, in what the residents see as a new attempt to force them to leave.

Kumba Iron Ore is a subsidiary of mining giant Anglo American.

The blasting on Tuesday left the streets littered with shards of rock, residents said.

This is the latest development in a long battle between the last remaining residents of the small Northern Cape town and Kumba.

The 25 families are refusing to move, demanding higher compensation for their homes than Kumba is offering.

Dingleton is situated over valuable iron ore that Kumba wants to mine to increase production.

The relocation of 517 households from Dingleton to the nearby town of Kathu began in 2014, and was meant to be completed by the end of 2016. Kumba says some of the residents requested the move.

"We believe that Kumba is mining illegally," said Jacob Rooiland, a resident of Dingleton who has refused to move. He said that although Kumba has the right to mine, the company should respect the buffer zone that prevents mining more than 500 metres from the town. In 2014, Kumba acknowledged to Bloomberg that the expansion of the mine "is already encroaching on the buffer zone of the community".

Another resident who is refusing to move is Victor Andreas, who echoes Rooiland's words. "In my view they are mining illegally," said Andreas. "They are currently mining very close."

"Luckily nobody got hurt" during the blasting, he said.

Luckily nobody got hurt.Victor Andreas

Kumba did not respond to a query about mining in the buffer zone. However spokesperson Ghrethna Kruger confirmed to GroundUp that the blast on Tuesday "resulted in pieces of fly rock landing in a vacant area of the Dingleton town".

"No injuries have been recorded and there was no damage to houses that are currently occupied. We are investigating the incident and relevant steps will be taken to avoid a recurrence," said Kruger.

Andreas confirmed that only unoccupied houses were damaged. But, he said, there was an occupied house near one of the houses which had been hit. "It was a close call."

He said a small child on a bicycle had narrowly missed being hit by a rock.

Richard Spoor, an attorney who is representing some of the residents of Dingleton, told GroundUp that despite it still being school holidays "rocks rained down on the village" on Tuesday. He said residents had also had to contend with Kumba removing soil from around the village at night. People were battling to sleep because of the noise and dust, he said.

Andreas said that last night the mine was operating, causing so much noise that people couldn't sleep.

Residents believe that Kumba is trying to compel them to move.

Rooiland said Kumba was trying to "intimidate us and victimise us, to force us out of the area".

In 2013 Kumba offered residents the option of giving up their homes in Dingleton and receiving a new home in nearby Kathu. Kumba would pay relocation and property transfer costs, as well as paying the difference in property taxes and rates for about 25 years. Other benefits such as a once-off inconvenience fee were also part of the offer.

But the remaining residents believe that this is not fair compensation for their houses, situated over valuable iron ore.

Andreas uses the example of having a property in Sea Point to illustrate this point.

"A lot of things would influence the value of that flat. Table Bay is next to it, the sea is in front of you", said Andreas. And while he said he understood that Kumba had the mining rights and that the iron ore belonged to the government, he was not prepared to give away his house in exchange for one in Kathu.

During the negotiations Kumba was "never prepared to honour our rights as private property owners", he said. "They were dictating the terms."

"I'm not gonna leave here on Kumba's conditions," Rooiland said. "All of us are title deeds owners. Kumba doesn't see it that way."

I'm not gonna leave here on Kumba's conditions. All of us are title deeds owners. Kumba doesn't see it that way.Jacob Rooiland

Spoor said some of the residents who had relocated to Kathu had been disappointed.

He said some people could not afford the municipal rates, even with Kumba's subsidy and living conditions in the suburb of Kathu were not the same as in Dingleton.

"The process was not entirely transparent. There [have been] suggestions that people with political connections received substantially better deals than others," added Spoor.

Andreas said that Kumba had "the muscle and money" to fight the residents and that "what Kumba is doing is really not right".

He said after the outcry over the blasting incident, mining operations might come to a halt temporarily, but there is no telling when the drills will begin again.

The Department of Mineral Resources told GroundUp that a complaint had been received and that inspectors had been assigned to the area. -- GroundUp