22 May 2007 - The Steel Valley Crisis Committee (SVCC), the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, (VEJA), and groundWork (Friends of the Earth, South Africa) invite you to report on a Day of Remembrance in Steel Valley

Media invitation 22 May 2007, 1 o'clock

Mittal - stop intimidating Steel Valley families!

You are invited to a media conference at 1 o' clock in Steel Valley, Vanderbijlpark at the house of Mr Strike Matsepe. From Johannesburg, follow the N1 to Bloemfontein. Turn off at Vanderbijlpark. At the first four-stop, turn left into the Golden Highway 553/R28. Opposite the Mittal slag heap (a small black mountain), you will see on your left one of the last remaining houses, which belongs to Mr Matsepe.

It is a day of Remembrance and Solidarity for Steel Valley, in solidarity with the last five remaining families in Steel Valley. Survivors of the Steel Valley pollution will meet to be updated on the situation and show solidarity with the remaining families.

The area was polluted and then bought out at unfair prices by Iscor (now Mittal Steel), which ruined the lives of Steel Valley, Louisrus and other smallholders. As a result of his process farmworkers were also left with nowhere to go.

Current situation [1]

Mittal Steel is using 'dirty tricks' to get rid of the last 5 families in the Greater Steel Valley. Mr Tsoeu (Johannes) Mkwanazi's, one of the five remaining plot owners, has had his cattle impounded, by the manager of the Mittal Steel Valley Farm, who has claimed that the cattle has trespassed onto Mittal Steel's land, which is not properly fenced.

Ms Rachel Ramodibe, head of one of the five households had bought and paid for one of the local farms. The farm was never registered in her name unbeknownst to her. Mittal Steel became aware of this, went to the title deed holder and purchased from the previous owner the title deed and registered it in Mittal Steel name. Ms Ramodibe went to the Johannesburg High court and got and order to prevent Mittal Steel from interfering with the farm, until clarity is gained on the ownership.

International solidarity

The founding of an international Mittal Watch is to be announced at the meeting. This international network will monitor and report on Mittal's abuses of communities and environments in other countries as well.

Issues for discussion at the workshop

* Mittal must stop intimidating the remaining families. If Mittal wants to buy their properties it should do so legally.
* Mittal must stop its pollution.
* Proper compensation must be paid for land value, loss of livelihoods, medical costs etc. The polluter must pay.
* DWAF must rehabilitate the area and send the bill to Mittal Steel The groundwater pollution is spreading and this is a threat to other smallholdings in the Vaal.
* Mittal Steel's secret Master Plan detailing the extent of the pollution and what it plans to do about it, must be made public.
* The victims demand that Mittal Steel must form a trust account for the victim's families with immediate effect.
* It must respect the government decision that it reduce its air pollution as prescribed by the provincial government on Mittal Steel's new development.


For more information:

Samson Mokoena - 084 291 8510

Victor Munnik - 082 906 3699

[1] Background on the Greater Steel Valley: 50 Years of pollution

The Vanderbijlpark Steel Mill was built from 1948 to 1952. Its immediate neighbours to the West, a community of between 500 and 600 smallholders known as Steel Valley (with at least the same number of farm worker families living in the area, therefore more than a thousand families) had their first complaint against its pollution registered in 1961 with the then Department of Water Affairs. The sources of pollution were unlined effluent dams, an unlined canal (running past the smallholdings) taking storm water, waste water and effluent from the site, dust from a slagheap on the boundary between the mill and Steel Valley, general dust and fall-out from chimneys, cooling towers etc. in the works. Residents noted strange tasting borehole water, many ill effects on their health (they compiled a "cancer map" of residents in the area), failure of crops and trees and dying livestock (High Court of SA, 2001).

The DWA (later DWAF) record shows numerous consultant studies on the groundwater, with conflicting results but leaving little doubt that the effluent dams were leaking pollutants into the groundwater. Steel Valley residents (and the Department) achieved little up to 1994. It was apartheid times, Iscor was a powerful parastatal, a strategic steel producer and protected by security legislation: the Key Points Act. As Steel Valley resident Johan Dewing, recalls: "it meant that we should not try to attack ISCOR. We should not even walk along the fence, take photographs or look at it". It was a useless instruction since many Steel Valley residents worked at Iscor.

The political relaxation of 1990 and the democratic elections of 1994 brought major change, and new hope. Black South Africans moved into the area as land owners, ironically ignoring warnings of pollution on the basis that it was a racist plot to keep them out! Community leaders, white and black, became part of the new local government and tried to use it to deal with their pollution problem. Municipal laboratory facilities were used to inspect and find the area "not fit for human habitation". Town planning capacities were used to design a grand relocation scheme, "Mooi Waters" which would be followed by remediation of the contaminated site. Included in this planning was a medical fund for victims of pollution, and an institute to study pollution. Community leaders connected to the now ruling ANC appealed to their networks, fully expecting their support which was promised, but never materialised.

In the meantime, a forum for negotiating was established. Iscor, throughout this history regarded by residents as "arrogant", refused to entertain the Mooi Waters vision. A group of residents (led by local councillor Johnny Horne) used the information developed by the district council and presented in the forum to launch a court challenge against Iscor. When the judge declared his willingness to stop Iscor operations, they settled out of court and moved out of the area. A second, multiracial group, emboldened by this success and with the "DWA pollution archive" as well as a series of medical tests as evidence, went to court as well. They were astounded to be trounced in court, and most of the 16 applicants - with the exception of 2 applicants still involved in a court case - eventually sold their land to Iscor and moved out. Iscor, now Mittal Steel, fenced in the acquired area, demolished the houses and created a park-like buffer zone populated with antelope and ostriches.

Two aspects of this history were particularly difficult for residents to understand. One was how anybody could deny that there was pollution, and "get away with it". The other was why attempts to get justice from former comrades from the liberation movement, now in powerful government positions, failed.

In 2006, while the last two of the original sixteen applicants in the second pollution case were still in court, fighting, the mill, now belonging to multinational Mittal Steel, installed a new (R280 million) water treatment plant, and announced plans for improving air pollution.. There are, however, no plans to compensate pollution victims or to rehabilitate the polluted area. The steel mills' neighbours have almost all moved away, but remain bitter. Some of them have joined a bigger "Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance" active in the whole Vaal Triangle, uniting with residents of Boipatong and Bophelong also neighbours of the steel makers. While this struggle continues, the question remains: Why has it been so difficult for the neighbours of the Vanderbijlpark Steel Mill to achieve the environmental justice so clearly promised to them in the new South African constitution, specifically section 24:

"Everyone has the right (a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being, and (b) to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that - prevent pollution and ecological degradation..." Nasty end game, Easter 2007

At the time of writing, Mittal Steel was playing a nasty end game of intimidation and harassment to get rid of the last four (five with Matabatas) families in Steel Valley.

Since the Ramodibes and Mkwanazi had refused to sell their properties at the prices Mittal offered, the giant company turned to other means. An agent acting for them went to the title deed office and found administrative loopholes in the property transfers. Lawyers had not completed the title deed transfers into these people's names. The agent followed up to the last seller and official owners and - despite knowledge that the properties had been paid for - acquired them anew from the previous owners and registered them in Mittal's name.

They arrived at the house of Rachel Ramodibe, who still lived with her grandchild of the same name, on her plot. Rachel was visited by a Mittal lackey and told that Mittal now owned her plot and house, and would demolish it straight after Easter. With the help of the legal team, Margie Victor and Raymong Appel - still fighting the case of the remaining 2 of the 16 applicants - an interdict was acquired from court to stop this harassment.

Mittal continued to plague the four families. The target was Mkwanazi, who had two houses in Steel Valley. Mittal acquired the title deed of his second house - which he was renting out to tenants - and promptly demolished it together with the dam (reservoir) which held water for his herd of more than 60 cattle.

They then turned their attention to the cattle, and impounded 58 cows in the weekend after Easter. The cattle were chased to Mittal's kraal in Steel Valley, and then trucked out to Lichtenburg (a fair distance). Their explanation was that the cattle had trespassed onto Mittal's land. Mkwanazi had to pay R35 000 to get the cattle back (including transport and pound fees). In the meantime, the calves that had remained behind, were starved of mother's milk. Someone - possibly Mittal - then alerted the SPCA that the calves were in a bad state, and they arrived at the homestead of Mr Mkwanazi. The lackeys of the richest man in the world were harassing the last residents of Steel Valley to get rid of them.