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Who pays the price of platinum?

By Angus Stickler
BBC File On 4

An Angloplats miner
Platinum mining is highly profitable
Mining giant Anglo American courts prime ministers and presidents, keen to be seen as leading the way in corporate responsibility.

But there are concerns that people are being forced off their land as the world's third largest mining operation seeks huge profits from the increasing world demand for platinum.

The global drive for clean air is driving the market in platinum which is used to produce catalytic converters.

Nearly 90% of the world's platinum reserves are in southern Africa with Anglo American's mines proving to be highly productive and profitable.

It makes the company a major player in the South African economy paying nearly 1bn in tax to the government.

'Forced to move'

This platinum rush has seen a new wave of mines with deep pit mining abandoned and massive open casts mines coming on stream.

But thousands of villagers have had to move from their ancestral lands - relocated to purpose built townships financed by Anglo American's subsidiary Anglo Platinum which offers compensation and new land.

Not everyone was happy to leave.

Abel Moholah is holding out in Ga-Pila, the land where his forefathers lived and died - fertile land with produce including pumpkins, beans, and sugar canes.

They are forcing us out - they don't care how they are getting their platinum
Rose Thlarera

He is among a group of 140 out of 7,000 people who refused to leave.

Another villager Rose Thlarera told File On 4: "I worked my arse off working for these people - for white people - and cleaning their houses."

No water

"I'm not going to move just because they come and tell me - force me to go - I can't do that. I believe I have also got rights," said Rose.

"What the mine is doing to us is worse than the apartheid era - during apartheid we had our water and electricity but we didn't have the mine amongst us."

She added: "They are forcing us out - they don't care how they are getting their platinum."

The company said it had no part in removing the electricity and water supply.

Explosions at open cast mines
Thousands of people have had to leave their homes due to open cast mines

With no water the remaining villagers rely on a seep dug next to a stream, "We don't think it is clean - it is not healthy any more," said Rose.

Pollution fear

They fear the water is polluted with chemicals from the nearby mine and Abel said he was hospitalised for three weeks with a stomach ailment and breathlessness.

Last October an independent analysis, commissioned by the charity Action Aid , of water at 10 sites near Anglo Platinum mines in the Limpopo Province found water unfit for human consumption.

The analysis by environmental chemist Carin Bosman found it contained high concentrations of salts, particularly nitrates, which could cause stomach cancer and sometimes a fatal blood disorder - one of its symptoms is breathlessness.

Her analysis at one village Ga-Molekane, found the village water supply has extremely high levels of nitrates and bacteriological contamination.

Ms Bosman said she is certain a waste reservoir next to the mine is responsible for the contamination.

Daisy Lekoane, head-teacher at the village primary school was shown the results, by File On 4, which revealed the school's supply was contaminated.

"This is terrible, our lives are at stake," she said.

She added: "The mine should do something to alleviate this problem."

Bore hole in Ga-Pila, South Africa
Action Aid say water from this bore hole is contaminated

Secondary school head Kenneth Chepape, whose school had a water tank and bore hole provided by the mining company, was equally shocked.

Stomach problems

"I don't even know what to say," he said.

He added many pupils had experienced stomach problems and dizziness.

Mr Chepape said the company was not doing enough to help, adding, "It is an open secret that they are making millions and millions out of the land that was formerly occupied by the community."

Anglo Platinum's Executive Head of Corporate Affairs Mary-Jane Morifi told File On 4: "We would be interested in engaging with Action Aid to understand what the results were and where exactly they tested."

She doubted whether Ga-Pila's water was affected as the site is upstream from its mining activity.

'Fair compensation'

And a later statement from Anglo Platinum said it did not dispute that high levels of nitrates were found in some downstream monitoring points but added it was highly unlikely this would migrate towards Ga-Molekane.

In terms of resettlement our objective is to ensure that we at least leave the communities no worse off and our objective is to make them better off
Edward Bickham, Anglo American

An Action Aid report also accuses the company of exploiting those forced to leave their land.

"People need to be given fair amounts of compensation, they need to be asked whether they want to be moved or not in these mining processes of mining and they should be compensated adequately for that," said its author Mark Curtis.

But Anglo American rebuts this.

Edward Bickham, Group Head of External Affairs, told File On 4, "In terms of resettlement our objective is to ensure that we at least leave the communities no worse off and our objective is to make them better off."

Representatives of various campaign groups have bought shares in the company and are expected to attend next month's annual general meeting.

The question they pose is what price platinum and who ultimately has to pay?

Hear the full story on BBC Radio 4: File On 4 Tuesday 25 March 2008 at 2000 GMT, repeated Sunday 30 March at 1700 GMT or online at the File on 4 website.

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