In a debacle that has worsened tensions within the Marikana community in North West province, platinum miner Lonmin spent more than R20‑million on a major sanitation project for residents that ultimately delivered only two functioning toilets.
Mineworkers interviewed by amaBhungane blamed the collapse of the scheme on the company’s failure to provide proper oversight of the contract, which was originally meant to build 3 200 ventilated latrines.
Residents of the Nkaneng squatter camp said that, after the scheme was suspended, toilets in various stages of completion stood in an open field for several years. About 600 were finished to the level of fittings, but they were poorly built and eventually collapsed.
An inspection by amaBhungane showed that the two remaining latrines are in a filthy condition.
One worker described the scheme’s failure as a constant reminder of what the company thinks of its workforce. “This is just one of the reasons we resent this company – it refuses to do the basics,” the worker said.
Lonmin pointed a finger at construction company Lotshephe Development Engineers and its subcontractors, accusing them of poor workmanship and, in some cases, of absconding without finishing the work.
Errors and absconding
According to a University of the Witwatersrand paper titled Marikana and the Post-Apartheid Workplace Order, just over 100 000 people live in the Lonmin licence area in villages adjoining mines, hostels, high- and low-density suburbs and informal settlements.
The lack of housing and decent social living conditions in Marikana has been under the spotlight since police shot 34 miners dead during a strike over wages in August 2012.
Last month, amaBhungane reported that some mineworkers have illegally occupied low-cost housing built on land donated by the company, arguing that the houses were promised to them but that people linked to the ANC were now moving in.
Lonmin’s failure to provide adequate accommodation has been criticised by both the Farlam commission and Amnesty International.
According to an informed company source, Lonmin commissioned the sanitation scheme for the greater community in 2012.
Lonmin’s spokesperson, Happy Nkhoma, revealed that the original budget of R16‑million had swollen to R20.1‑million because of added costs, including “remedial work when contractors made errors and some absconded with unfinished work”.
The source added that, in many cases, contractors did not adhere to construction methods and plans.
“Give us millions and we’ll make up a plan …”
Nkhoma blamed Lotshephe, headed by Booi Dandashe, for the collapse of the project. He said Lonmin appointed Lotshephe to plan, design and manage the construction of sanitation facilities in Segwaelane and Bapong villages, which include the Nkaneng informal settlement.
Eight local contractors were appointed to build 400 units each, 1 200 in Segwaelane and 2 000 in Bapong, Nkhoma said.
Dandashe did not answer amaBhungane’s emailed questions, and Nkhoma did not comment on allegations that Lonmin had failed in its oversight role on the project.
Residents who spoke to amaBhungane said they would have preferred houses to toilets, but Nkhoma said the company received the request from the Bapo ba Mogale tribal council, whose land Lonmin is mining.
“Bapo was under administration by the North West provincial government at the time [2012/2013]. “The administrator and the Bapo leaders at the time made the decision and Lonmin agreed to fund and facilitate implementation of the project,” Nkhoma said.
However, a company insider said it was clear from the beginning that the scheme was doomed to fail, because there was no project planning, cost estimates were inadequate and no cash-flow plans were available.
“The viability of the project could not be assessed. It’s as if Lonmin told the contractor to build toilets, and Lotshephe said: ‘Yes, give us millions and we’ll make up a plan as we go along’,” the source said.
She added that it was “unbelievable” that expenditure of R20‑million had resulted in the completion of just two toilets.
“Lotshephe invoiced for work done when it clearly wasn’t done,” said the source. “They walked away with R2.5‑million for doing what, exactly? No one knows. When we went to check on the project in 2014, everything was such a mess.”
“Not even Jacob Zuma’s chickens and cows … “
The disorder included building material being left out in the open unsecured. The contractors also allegedly didn’t adhere to the project design, failing to build foundations and using incorrect materials for backfill as well as poor-quality bricks.
Nkhoma said deposits were also paid to local subcontractors to help them begin work, because most were start-up operations that lacked the capital to buy materials or pay salaries.
Some of these community-based companies absconded with the deposits without doing the work or delivering materials, he said. This was one of the reasons the project was stopped in 2014.
The source added that there were no sign-offs on the designs and drawings, no inspection reports done by Lotshephe and no updates on time schedules.
Community leader Napoleon Webster said the toilet scandal was “just another illustration of how Lonmin and the ANC government undermine black lives”.
Webster said the community was not consulted and would never have opted for toilets over houses. The toilets were also a safety risk, especially at night, he added.
“It is a total disgrace to the black race that we can make billions of dollars for the corporations and not receive human respect from them. Not even Jacob Zuma’s chickens and cows live in the conditions that we miners live in.”
Nkhoma said Lonmin is redesigning the project in conjunction with the new leadership of Bapo ba Mogale in order to complete unfinished work and repair damaged structures.
The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism produced this story. Like it? Be an amaB supporter and help us do more. Sign up for our newsletter to get more.