“The accumulation of traumatic and stressful events associated with the introduction and operation of an open pit coal mine at Somkhele has caused psychological injuries…such as ongoing traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety,” said psychologist Dr Garret Barnwell during a webinar on Tuesday, October 25, 2022.
Barnwell was commissioned by the All Rise legal center report on mining-affected communities. He interviewed 26 families from the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organization in KwaZulu-Natal, who told firsthand how their lives had been affected. The interviews were conducted in the families’ homes so that he could also take stock of the living conditions.
The detailed interviews aimed to assess the level of trauma experienced by the families. The key to this, Barnwell said, was understanding what the community looked like before mining and what it looks like now. Among the stressors he identified were the impact of forced relocations and the exhumation and reburial of loved ones.
The report revealed that the community saw Somkhele, with its supportive social networks, as a place to be proud of. They had a sense of security and well-being and had amassed intergenerational wealth.
“Everyone described the resettlement process as stressful and undignified. In general, people felt considerably betrayed by what happened,” Barnwell said during the webinar.
He said compensation depended on the material valuation of a person’s house, but those who were relocated lost livestock, kraal, fields and graves, for which they were not compensated. . People described the resettlement as a “horrible” experience, especially elders, who became visibly upset when talking about it.
Barnwell explained that the digging up of graves is not part of traditional culture and was introduced by the mines, compounding the trauma people have suffered.
Their isibaya (cattle kraals), of which they were deprived, had spiritual and cultural significance and were symbols of stature. People who had their own farms and pastures for their cattle were moved into clustered housing, which had a negative financial impact.
Those interviewed by Barnwell said mining causes daily environmental suffering. They said there was noise pollution from the blasting and coal dust was strewn inside and outside their homes, blackening the water in the JoJo reservoirs.
Some said they had skin disorders and asthma from mining, and a third of respondents said they were suicidal because they felt helpless and alienated.
Barnwell described these conditions as “continuing traumatic stress disorder”. He said there were no mental health services in the community.
“We weren’t included when they were organizing meetings, we were just told we weren’t involved,” a community member from Somkhele said during the webinar.
“We were affected by dust throughout the day and night. When they blast, our houses crack. We can’t even wash or enjoy the water from the JoJo reservoirs because it’s contaminated. »
She told the webinar that her family had livestock that were dying from the coal dust, while some wandered into the mining lands and got lost.
“Another thing that worries me a lot is that we have graves there and the graves have been damaged by the mine. We can’t even do our rituals.
Visit daily maverick home page for more news, analysis and investigations
Dr Dineo Skosanaresearcher in coal mines at the Society, Labor and Politics Institute, spoke about the “intangible loss” suffered by relocated communities. Skosana said classism and racism also played a role.
“I find it problematic that people have been moved for mining, but their ancestral graves are placed right next to a dump,” Skosana said.
The devastation that often accompanies mining disproportionately affects women, said Asanda Benya, senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cape Town. Benya told the webinar that 500,000 miners in South Africa suffer from tuberculosis and silicosis and the burden of caring for them often falls on women.
“When you have a sick male member of the family, it has a psychological impact. In most cases, you have to sacrifice taking care of yourself and your own body. The devastation I have seen in Somkhele is not periodic, it is daily, it is long term,” Benya said. SM/MC