PTWC attends the inaugural Macua Summit in Pretoria.

On a hot dusty day in the nation's capital, about 300 incensed members of Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA) came together for the first time. It was an historic moment, and myself and my colleague Miles Masterson were proud to witness it as representatives of Protect the West Coast. 

Words by Steve Pike.

Miles Masterson and Steve Pike outside the DMRE offices holding the PTWC flag during the Macua Summit march.

The inaugural Macua Summit and subsequent march in Pretoria was an angry, swaying, dipping, and singing call to action rooted in anti-Apartheid protest.

They meant business. For too long, their words had been ignored. So they sang, and danced, and sang again. Songs of such profound simplicity, they sometimes comprised one repeated line: “My gun. My gun. Please bring my father’s machine gun”. Yes, the Umshimi Wami song.     

Except this time, the many other more complex but equally riveting and rhythmic songs forged in the dusty streets of Diepkloof or Katlehong or Umlazi in the tumultuous 1980s did not target the boers and colonisers. This time it was not them being told to “hlala phansi”. Politely translated, that means “sit down”. In this context, it means: “I will smack you down!” 

This time the throaty declarations of metaphoric war – resplendent with militaristic fervour and laced with mimicked machine gun fire that would scare half the white population half to death – was not aimed at moustached Afrikaners in plush imbuia-panelled offices.  

MACUA, with their compatriots from WAMUA (Women Affected by Mining United in Action) and YAMUA, the youth equivalent, marched to the offices of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) to vent their anger at someone else: the fatcat in his lofty DMRE office who ignores the plight of the people.  

In the street in front of the entrance to the DMRE, they shouted and ululated and sang and chanted and pointed and scowled. From a stage opposite the building festooned with slogans such as Stop Killing Us and #BlackBloodischeap, they cajoled their comrades and sneered at the suits ensconced in Apartheid era walls.

Guest speaker Themba Godi of the African People’s Convention, one of several new South African political parties cashing in on the failures of the state, stared them down. Eloquent and thoughtful, his speech was simple. The opening lines were punchy too.

“Why is it that our people should come here to cry about YOU! Why? Why? Why are you doing this to your own people? Why? 

“We are no longer crying about the boers – because you are now in charge in those offices. Why are you oppressing our own people? Why?” 

One particularly strident female activist was vociferous in her attack as she stood to face the five storey edifice before her, and a tentative collective of suited DMRE officials standing safely and bemused behind a cordon of cops and a barricade of black steel fencing.

“Down with the arrogant politicians down! Down with Gwede Mantashe down. Phansi (down) with the ANC phansi! The ANC has failed us! The ANC has brought this country down the drain! So don’t you go and vote for the ANC!”

She spoke about the “poor policemen” standing guard who “come from our communities”. “Let them take their barrels and shake them at the bourgeois over there!”

By the time the national coordinator of Macua, Meshack Mbangula, took the stage, the atmosphere was laced with tension. This was partly because a small party of DMRE officials had by now been escorted by the police to the back of the shallow stage. They had to suffer the ignominy of standing centimeters from a parade of additional protest songs sung back and forth in front of them in the full glare of the stares of the people before them. 

Mbangula was filled with scorn and sarcasm as he described how hard it must be to open and close the drawers in their offices due to the bulging number of Macua memoranda that had been stuffed in there.

“For years now we have marched to the DMRE, mines and parliament in an attempt to get them to listen to marginalised and affected communities, engage with them and include them in key decision-making processes. But our cries fell on deaf ears.

“However, all they do is to come out with their fancy suits and accept memorandums for the sake of publicity. But the truth is that these people never listen to us. These people do not care about us.

“So, we will not deliver this memorandum to them today. We will not relegate this march today to a mere memorandum handing over,” he said. 

At this point, Mbangula held the memorandum in front of him … and tore it up. 

“This is the true state of our nation. We continue to be exploited by mines as mining affected communities, women continue to be excluded and disbarred from participating in key decision-making processes as an equal stakeholder. Poverty is at its highest.

“We demand change. We demand to be listened to and we demand free prior and informed consent. We demand for the complete overhaul of the MPRDA (Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 28 of 2002),” he said.

This is the nub of their complaint. They say that the MPRDA, which is supposed to guide a post-Apartheid sharing of mining wealth with communities, fails miserably. To them, it is merely a concept document weighted in favour of mining companies and wealthy individuals that cozy up to the ANC, with zero political will to enforce the lofty goals contained therein, which opens up for corruption and non-compliance to take hold.

“In essence, all we are demanding is inclusion. Is that too much to ask, especially when these bills allow mining companies to unconscionably scar our lands with shovels and tippers, leaving our lands exposed and barren?”

We flew back to Cape Town as two white guys who had been welcomed as comrades in a nationwide struggle to stop illegal mining and political malfeasance around mining. As the only representatives of the West Coast, we have engaged in talks with the advisory board of Macua to collaborate and assist in galvanising the communities of the West Coast.

The motto of Macua resonates. “Nothing about us without us”

Watch this space.

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