Friday 20 April 2012

Stealing our Tomorrow

People from Steel Valley

Iscor plant now called ArcelorMittal
Samson Mokoena is the Coordinator of Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, before he was the Chairperson of Steelvalley Crisis Committee. The committee was launched in May 2002 as a response to the groundwater and air pollution caused by ISCOR, one of the biggest steel mills on the African continent.  Samson is sharing with us how ArcelorMittal affected his family and other families lived in the area called Steel Valley. Steel Valley is situated South Johannesburg.
We are not sure whyy the area was called Steel Valley but what we know is that the people who were staying there where only whites who were working for ISCOR. Like other families, my father came to live in steel valley Linkholm area after the first democratic elections in 1994. My father was a construction worker at ISCOR. Because of a secure job, he received a loan from the bank to buy a small holding. For him, a dream was coming true. Not only was he able to continue with his farming skills that he received when growing up in the Free State. I recall my childhood, we had sufficient food from our farm plots and still additional income from cattle rising or chicken production.  

After a while we were joined by other black people in Steel Valley, forming a small location. Not knowing what is happening with water and why white people who were staying there before us moved out.  Animals started to die and many of us became sick. We could trace the root cause of al our problems to groundwater pollution. We discovered our water was polluted and many people started to complain about the water they drink. We also discovered that the source was from 10 big unlined evaporation dams inside ISCOR plant, from huge, 125 ha large uncovered slack dams as well as a cannel running from ISCOR steel mill through our farming area right into the Vaal River.

In 2000, ISCOR agreed to compensate about 400 property owners because of environmental pollution. Hundred and Fifty properties were left out of this offer. In 2004, my father decided to negotiate with ISCOR and other families. Iscor agreed to pay him as little as R165, 000 for a 2 ha plot and a spacious 4 room house. Loss of other properties, like several cows and poultry as well as health damage was not considered. Especially my mother suffers from sinus, itchy eyes and kidney failure.

It was sad to see a vibrant, colourful area slowly starting to 2004 die. In 2008 there were only 30 families left.  Other people took their entire pension fund and bought a small holding, that later discovered to mean nothing to them.  One of the people who took all her money is Rachel Bodibe. She got sick since she moved to the area. She lived in the area with her grandchild surrounded by electric fence put by ISCOR because she refused to accept the settlement. She did not have clean water and ISCOR refuse to negotiate with her about her sickness. At the age of 70 she was still fighting against one of the biggest company, later on she was then evicted.

Samson Mokoena entering ArcelorMittal offices in Luxenburg
Teboho Makume is also one of the people who were surrounded by electric fence after refusing the settlement. He is been staying in the area since 1994. He wanted be a farmer, he had 19 cows and in 2004 was only left with 6 cows because other died due to drinking polluted water. Like other families, Makume’s family suffers from ISCOR activities.  Because the whole family was sickly and farming was not possible any longer, Teboho’s father decided to leave the place with his wife and eight children. Unfortunately, their cows started to die, the dream of Makume’s family to Practice and earn a living from farming has been destroyed.  Iscor has offered them R65, 000 compensation for 1 and half ha plot and four bedroom house. However, this amount is not sufficient to buy another plot. Teboho is staying in a plot without drinking and cooking water. His father delivers about 20 litre of water every week. Like Rachel, Teboho is leaving a very lonely life with all neighbours gone and the community life wiped out. There are many people some of them lost more than 15 cows.   There are people who lived next the slack dams, died of kidney failure and cancer, there were people that could not stay outside because of the dust and air pollution from the slack dams, the family does not stay outside the house because of respiratory.
Iscor Destroyed our land and our heritage
When you visit area nowadays, you can hardly imagine that this used to be a vibrant community with small scale farms, shops, a filling station, a mobile clinic and other communal infrastructure. The area is dived by electric fences, public roads have been closed, people cannot easily move in the area. Only four families left now out of 500 house, steal refusing to sell their properties.
In 2008 a group called Global Action on ArcelorMittal was established. The group consist of organisation such as Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance and other groups from Ohio(USA), Romania, India, Ukraine, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The purpose of this group is unite all people who across the globe who are affected by ArcelorMittal Activities. By sharing information with other group across the globe we have realised that ArcelorMittal success has largely been paid by the communities living and working near the company plants.

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