Sishen mine. Picture: SUPPLIED
Sishen mine. Picture: SUPPLIED

Cedric Alexander first set eyes on Dingleton in 1975. Back then it was called Sishen town, after the large mine established there by Iscor and which today is run by Anglo American’s Kumba Iron Ore.

"To me, it was the most beautiful town I had ever seen," he says. "It was very clean, tidy."

Even the cars made an impression on him. "Where I come from, we have dilapidated vehicles where the boot is falling off or the doors are different colours.

"So I thought the people here must have a very decent standard of living."

Alexander wondered how he might bring his family to an area like this. "It was in apartheid’s years. I did ask around there but there was no way they were going to employ me."

But the town stuck in Alexander’s mind, and four years later he returned to work at the mine as the first artisan of colour. In 1997 he bought his house in the town, which had by then been renamed Dingleton.

Today Alexander’s home is one of just 11 standing like islands between heaps of rubble and uprooted trees. Except for these few households, the entire town has been moved.

It’s part of Kumba’s resettlement programme, as it seeks to expand its mining activity into the Dingleton area.

A feasibility study on the move started in 2007, says mine resettlement manager George Maluleke.

After years of consultation, and an indication of about 85% support from the community, the Kumba board approved the plan. In 2014, an extraordinary R3bn resettlement initiative commenced and Siyathemba, a new suburb of the nearby town of Kathu, came into being.

"The general principle was that whatever they had in Dingleton we would replace, like for like, or improve," says Maluleke, noting this is in line with the International Finance Corp’s standards for resettlement.

In exchange for their title deeds, the homeowners were given two options. The first, which 70% opted for, had the mine build them a house in Siyathemba that was equal in size and quality to their Dingleton home, if not better. Those who wanted to move elsewhere chose a payout. In both cases the replacement value was calculated per square metre, with additions — even fruit trees — factored into the total payout.

Each household also received a curtain allowance of up to R20,000 and an inconvenience allowance of R15,000. In late 2017 Kumba also gave each household that moved a R100,000 lump sum — just because.

We don’t want mansions, we don’t want millions, we just want something we can say is our own
Franklin Visagie

The property values are higher in Siyathemba, so the mine has committed to subsidise the rates and taxes for 20 years and then decrease the subsidy over a further five years.

But it wasn’t just homes that were moved; community halls, schools and seven Dingleton churches were rebuilt in Siyathemba.

Kumba also embarked on skills development programmes to help locals participate in and benefit from the project.

Today 98% of the homeowners have moved.

One of them is Rhisé Carlson. She and her husband moved to Siyathemba in 2016, paying in for a bigger house.

Carlson had settled in Dingleton in 1982, working as a primary school teacher. But over the years the town went backwards, she says.

"The gardens weren’t maintained, the streets were destroyed. It was an ugly, dirty town. Everything in Dingleton was second-hand, everything was old."

Carlson likes living in Siyathemba. The planes that fly overhead make her feel as if she lives in Joburg or the Cape, she says. "Here we are close to doctors, the hospital, the shops. We got a new school — bigger than what we had."

People take pride in their homes and even compete, Carlson says. "In Dingleton it wasn’t like that, people just lived."

Maluleke says the mine would have liked to have the resettlement done and dusted by now, but a handful of homeowners, including Alexander, are holding out.

Outside the front door of the Olyn residence in Dingleton, the remaining homeowners sit in a circle, as the sun sets over a mine dump in the near distance. A razor-wire fence marking the end of Sishen’s buffer zone has encroached right up to their property line. Now, and well into the night, trucks roar in the background.

The blasting, residents say, causes the houses to shake terribly.

"The actual reason we sit here is [that] Kumba promised us a better life," says homeowner Jack Jantjies, or Uncle Jack to those who know him.

"But you can’t create a better life without money. It’s our expectation that they give us the financial compensation. It is my property here, so give me what I’m asking, not what you are offering," he says.

The homeowners won’t say exactly what they’ve asked for — but it goes into the millions. "I don’t think we want much more than what those people in Siyathemba have already received," says Beertjie Olyn, whose family moved to Dingleton in 1987.

What Kumba has offered them is not satisfactory but the offers are not improving, says Olyn.

Their living conditions are also trying. Apart from the demolished town around them, there is no longer running water — due to vandalism, the mine says.

"They have destroyed our property value," says Olyn. "They took us back to apartheid.

"We must now take a bucket to fill the toilet so it can flush."

Jantjies says Dingleton residents lost out because of Kumba’s actions. For example, the spectre of resettlement meant the local government did not develop Dingleton as it did surrounding areas.

The homeowners say they never opposed moving, but they wanted Kumba to deal with them as a community and not individually. Though they expected compensation to vary, they say the process was not transparent. "Now, every person moving out is getting a better deal than the previous one," says Olyn, adding that the last homeowner to move received more than R13m for his property.

Maluleke bluntly denies this.

The homeowners say they also worry that the higher cost of living in Siyathemba will ultimately leave them worse off.

"They are trying to paint a picture that we … are asking for astronomical sums of money. And that isn’t the truth," says Olyn. "Is it nice to sit here without running water? Do you know how dangerous it is here? There aren’t police here, when we call an ambulance they tell us Dingleton is off the map."

The negotiations appear to have reached a dead end. Kumba has begun the process to invoke sections 54 and 55 of the Mineral & Petroleum Resources Development Act, which provide for expropriation with compensation.

Alexander, now a well to-do businessman in Kathu, does not need to hang on to his Dingleton house. After much back and forth with the mine, he is actually satisfied with Kumba’s offer. But he’s staying put in protest. "I’m always with the underdog," he says. "There was a lot of injustice done. I’m talking about the poor guys, not the ones with houses and jobs who can help themselves."

Evelyn Hunter, for example, lived in Dingleton with her parents for 31 years. When her mother passed away her brother took control of the house and later sold it to the mine. Hunter was put on the street. She took up occupancy in one of the vacant homes in Dingleton but during the resettlement came under pressure to leave.

Another occupier, who asked not to be named, lived in Dingleton with her parents for 24 years. With the resettlement, her father took the opportunity to take up a new house in Siyathemba — and a new wife — leaving his family behind.

They were forced to move further down the street as the mine closed in. But it wasn’t long before they were under pressure to move again. "It was a very stressful time for us. A few times I had to rush my mother to the clinic because the stress just became too much … They were always on our doorstep telling us we have to leave."

Both she and Hunter have now moved from Dingleton, thanks to an interim arrangement negotiated by Richard Spoor Inc Attorneys. The human rights law firm is also negotiating a better outcome for a group of Dingleton residents living at the Old Caravan Park, or OCP.

Kumba’s feasibility study found that apart from the homeowners, about 700 renters or backyarders lived in Dingleton.

At first, homeowners committed to take these renters or backyarders with them, Maluleke says.

But later they realised bylaws in Kathu would not allow shacks to be erected. So homeowners were either compensated for loss of income or waited for Kumba to erect dwellings acceptable to the municipality.

That’s why many people from the north of Dingleton found themselves in the OCP, Maluleke says.

What it means

Eleven remaining households have resisted Kumba’s relocation project

Residents at the dusty, rocky park say the prefab houses were acceptable at first. But what was a temporary solution ran into a number of years. Life became harder when nearby Dingleton disappeared, water stopped running and transport became problematic.

Franklin Visagie, who was relocated to the OCP, feels they were treated as an afterthought. "We lived together in Dingleton. Why give them houses and give us this far-off place?"

They moved in good faith, he says. "We negotiated with Kumba because Kumba needed something from us. So in return we wanted them to give us something back … Based on their promises, we went."

Though the community was represented in a resettlement working group, Visagie says the group’s decisions didn’t reflect the interests of residents such as himself, who didn’t own homes.

Spoor Inc has now negotiated for a water tanker to be provided for the OCP households, that some transport be reinstated and for a monthly "remoteness allowance" for each household of R5,000 (minus rent, which is calculated on an affordability assessment).

"We don’t want mansions, we don’t want millions, we just want something we can say is our own," says Visagie. "We were happy in Dingleton, we were like family. Now we are just stranded."

Unable to settle, Kumba and Spoor Inc, acting on behalf of the OCP households and other occupiers, are likely to go to arbitration.

Challenging as the resettlement has been, Maluleke says it’s also been educational. "One big thing I’ve learnt is that no formula will give you the same outcome repeated with different people."

But Alexander believes there wouldn’t have been a problem if people had been treated fairly.

"I don’t want to bad-mouth the mine," he says. "A lot of good things came out of it. But there are a lot of things that could have been done differently."