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South Africa community radio station forced to cancel discussion about mining deal

madibengIt looks like the staff of South Africa community radio station Madibeng FM 105.3 thought an on air dialogue with activists critical about a cash-for-mining-access deal would go smoothly. Unfortunately they were wrong. On Thursday beneficiaries of the controversial arrangement with the Lonmin platinum metals consortium surrounded the building and forced management to shut the program down.

According to area press, opponents of the discussion arrived “chanting, slamming the door and shouting that they wanted to speak to the manager.” Police came and negotiated a deal. Bottom line: Maidbeng FM “should stop reporting” on the controversy.

One of the activists who hoped to speak on the program called the arrangement “rubbish.” “I am pissed off,” he added. “We are supposed to be telling the community what is happening.”

What “is happening” is, of course, a matter of opinion. But here’s what I can figure out so far. In 2014 Lonmin cut a deal with the Bapo ba Mogale Community. The latter organization controls a large swath of land in South Africa’s North West province. Lonmin paid 640 million Rand in cash and stock shares for unrestricted access to the area, plus “a right to a 12% royalty on mining profits and a 7.5% share of the lucrative Pandora Joint Venture,” according to the GroundUp news service. Pandora is a collaboration with another platinum mining company.

But there has been dissention among members of this community, some of whom have taken the deal to court in nearby Johannesburg because they say that they have never seen the agreement. Among its possibly less palatable provisions, the Bapo community agreed to waive its legal right to royalties from Lonmin’s operating companies. Instead, Lonmin will fork over a single sum that Bapo can use to buy company shares.

One of the litigants told Africa’s Mail & Guardian that without “being given an opportunity to view and interrogate the relevant documents relating to this deal, the community has no idea whether or not it is in a better or worse position than before the deal was entered into.”

It was, one presumes, this controversy that Madibeng wanted to vet on Thursday. GroundUp reports that police were back to deal with the crisis on Friday. Three buses full of supporters of Bapo ba Mogale’s CEO returned to the station, once again demanding to speak with the station manager. On Saturday he received a certified letter from Bapo ba Mogale. “We further bring to your attention,” it warned, “the unethical conduct that you display seems to be furthering the unknown motives of a splinter group that is opposed to the Bapo ba Mogale traditional council and its corporate wing.”


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