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Tension rising in Prieska about mining activities: FF Plus concerned about economic repercussions

Over the past few weeks, Prieska in the Northern Cape frequently made headlines in the news because residents are unhappy about the resumption of copper mining activities at Copperton, just outside Prieska. The FF Plus is concerned that tensions will keep rising and destabilise the usually peaceful region.

The fear that the mining company in question will "import" its own workers rather than use the local labour force has sparked anger among Prieska's large number of unemployed individuals. And these fears are not unfounded as events elsewhere in the province have demonstrated that ore can easily be transported out of the province, without adding any value first. The only permanent outcome is the destruction of roads.

Over the past two weeks, unhappy residents repeatedly blocked the routes into and out of Prieska to demonstrate their dissatisfaction. Tyres were set on fire and businesses had no choice but to close their doors on more than one occasion.

The court order obtained against the vandalism by Orion Minerals offers protection only to the mine and the route leading to it. Thus, protesters are apparently still free to burn tyres in town and to intimidate those who want to work.

Business owners who tried to report incidents of intimidation of their employees at their businesses were turned away. Police officers argue that the protest actions are lawful and, thus, they refuse to lodge any complaints of intimidation or to record them in the incident book.

During this morning's blockading of the town, the tension was laced with racism. An eyewitness ranted on Facebook about a “farmer” who transported a mother and her baby on the back of a bakkie.

The post, as well as the comments in reaction to it, uses crude, racist language that incites people to violence. The post creates the impression that white people are the only ones who transport passengers on the back of bakkies and that all farmers do so.

In the meantime, the driver of the vehicle stated that he was giving the mother and child a lift. He was merely taking the risk of Covid-19, which is flaring up in Prieska at the moment, into consideration. Another option would have been to leave them standing next to the road, waiting for another lift.

The root of the problem is not the actions of farmers or any other group of people, but desperate unemployment. It is the result of general economic decline, which has also resulted in deindustrialisation in South Africa.

Forcing businesses in Prieska to close will in no way contribute to job creation. The fact that there was no engagement with the business community in Prieska to minimise the disruption indicates that their interests are being disregarded.

While the ANC must be held accountable for its poor management of the country's economy, the FF Plus wants to encourage farmers and the general public to adhere to labour laws, particularly when it comes to safety.

It is vital to replace violence and frustration with local value addition and good municipal services. Voters in Prieska have the opportunity to help bring this about in October this year by electing FF Plus councillors to municipal councils.

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