Film team covers coal impact

Mr Stephen Thibanyane (right) tells the story of the impact coal has had on his life and his family to an international film maker, Dimitris Gkotsis

LEPHALALE — Late in December 2017 an international film team visited the Lephalale area with a focus on coal.
“It is tragic, but very evident to me, that the stories of the impacts of coal are essentially the same all over the world,” says Dimitris Gkotsis, an international film maker.
He has covered stories about people being forcefully removed, losing their homes, land and sense of community. Around different coal projects in Lephalale, there are similar stories. Stephen Tibanyane was removed from his house on a farm where he was working for decades. He was not allowed entrance to collect his property by a representative of a big mining company. “This is not the way things should be done. I have been to the Human Rights Commission and back. No-one has the power to take on the might of coal. They think they can do anything, just because no-one dares to stop them,” says Stephen, clearly distraught in front of his house in Marapong.
In the Steenbokpan area the impacts are also huge. The mere mention of various proposed coal projects led to people leaving their homes and employment on farms in the hope of getting better jobs. Now they live in a squatter camp where crime, poverty and STD’s are sky high. There is not enough water, electricity or sanitation. The stench drifting in from the Eskom and Exxaro projects hangs thick in the air. “Everyone has the right to a job, but we have the right to a decent job that will not affect our health, land, water, air and the future of our children,” says one activist.
The story of the impact of coal is definitely one of power over people and nature. This is echoed in the words of a local game farmer: “The fact that there is coal under the beautiful bushveld, is like a death sentence to nature and our way of life,” he explained. He is part of a family business with fourth generation farmers and their workers living and working together in harmony. Now the farm is being flanked by various coal projects from all around.
The director of the show also spoke to Petrus Molokomme from the Shongoane Traditional Council. The Steenbokpan area falls under this council. Even though Shongoane is not as impacted as Steenbokpan, there are also projects planned for this area. “The impact reaches us through the air. This is now the third most polluted air in the country. We were declared an air quality priority area, but it has made no difference. We are worried about the future of our people and our bushveld. Big companies come and make big promises, but leaves us with the pollution, the crime and lots of social problems,” he says.
Ria Makgae and Tebogo Mocheko are two young women, members of the Matjoba Young Women’s Group that also told their story. “We can’t be silent when all of these injustices are everywhere to be found,” they said.
South Africa was the last stop on a 30 country whirlwind tour for Dimitris Gkotsis from Athens, Greece.
The Lephalale stories will form part of a documentary shown at film festivals all over the world, and is expected to be complete in March or April 2018.

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