Tuesday, March 25, 2008

what price platinum?

From the BBC

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. Nearly 20,000 South Africans have been displaced by mining giant Anglo American in its search for platinum, a BBC File on 4 investigation has found.

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. Villagers who have resisted claim they have been shot with rubber bullets by the police.

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

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.

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.

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.

Anglo Platinum has also been criticised over safety standards - on average, around 20 people a year are killed whilst working in its mines.

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

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