Richard Thole’s Commemoration
On the 25th February 2021, Community Empowerment Committee (COMEC) and 360 Degrees Environmental Organisation (360 DEO) commemorated the passing of Richard Thole. The day began with a ritual of ukuphahla – where Richard’s family was allowed to honour the passing of their son.
Sandile Nombeni (360DEO) gave a brief description of Richard’s case. The family did not receive a death certificate as the department of Home affairs’ policy states that a death certificate will not be issued for a body that has not been recovered.
After the failure to recover the body by the municipal rescue team, the Mayor promised that the military rescue team recover Richard’s body, to date, it has not been recovered. Artisanal miners also offered to rescue Richard, as they have indigenous knowledge with abandoned mines, they were denied access as they are recognised as illegal miners. Considering the experience we acquired when we worked closely with artisanal miners, we believe that they do have the skill and they would have been able to assist in this regard.
South Africa’s mining industry faces many challenges exacerbated by a perilous political climate hampered by corrupt activities and state capture resulting in policy uncertainty and diminishing investor confidence. However, while the political environment has its own implications on the operations of the mining industry and its sizeable contribution to South Africa’s gross domestic product, amongst these is also a combination of other environmental and social ills posed by the mining industry which continues to have a material impact on the livelihoods of mine-affected communities, especially women and children. One aspect which poses a grave concern among women activists is the continued violation of the right to dignity for women in mine-affected communities. Civil society groups working across these issues have raised concerns about the lack of interventions directed towards shaping both the public and private sectors to respond to this identified issue. Human dignity as enshrined in section 10, Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 106 of 1996 is a crucial element foregrounding the spirit, purport and value of an open and democratic society, and must be warranted sufficient attention matched with adequate interventions to accelerate the necessary responses by concerned parties, both public and private.
Recognising that some movements and organisations work closely on issues related to protecting and promoting human rights in mine-affected communities, interventions are often very complex and do not accommodate more focused issues, especially around human dignity in the context of people living in mine-affected communities. This forms the basis to pursue the injustice that happened on the 25th February 2017, where Richard Thole, a 5-year-old boy who fell in an open shaft that was abandoned by Tormine Mine; not only in the interests of supporting Richards family in their journey to find closure but to galvanise support among community members to take ownership of their struggles, amplify the voices around shared issues and concretise activist organising in civil society and mine-affected communities. Most mining communities are rural in nature and are sparsely located, we aim to focus our interventions specifically in these isolated geographic locations where the poorest and most marginalised communities are most affected by grave human dignity violations perpetrated by mining companies and often neglected by traditional and local government authorities who are meant to protect their best interests.
It is sad to learn that the family has no breadwinner nor did they receive trauma counselling. We also learned that the family has since moved to a new area, however, they continue to struggle to earn a decent living. We learnt that the community is divided due to political faction thus the family did not receive support except for food parcels from social workers, which only lasted for 3 months.
During our second visit, Meshack Mohlala, took us on a toxic tour around Jerusalem informal settlement, including where Richard was born. This was followed by a visit to three homes that are built on shafts. We also got an opportunity to speak to community members, who highlighted the following:
- Political exclusion in decision making and human and environmental rights violation;
- High rate of unemployment and lack of service delivery;
- Lack of agricultural activity due to toxic waste that is dumped by operational companies;
- High level of dust pollution due to current adjacent reclamation project;
- Rehabilitation of the land
We had planned a silent demonstration outside the Ekurhuleni Municipality Head Office despite the Covid-19 restrictions on public gatherings. It was evident that COVID had impacted our struggle for justice and activists were hampered the right to protest.
From the proceedings of the day, we came up with resolutions and they are as followed:
- Organise a toxic tour to mobilise the community to revolt against the environmental injustices plaguing the community of Jerusalem
- Facilitate the process for a family to receive Trauma counselling
- Find legal assistance to further pursue Richard’s
- To erect a memorial tombstone and commemorate the 25th of February every year
Thando Lukuko also wrote a message of comfort on behalf of the South African Climate Action Network (SACAN). COMEC and 360 DEO also expressed messages of support.