The community around the Lily Gold Mine were left in a state of despair and desolation when the mine had to close down after the 5 February 2016 incident which saw three mineworkers trapped after the ground (as a result of a sinkhole) collapsed.
After numerous attempts to reach them, the three workers were never rescued. It was later declared unsafe and unstable to continue with the rescue attempts and operations at the mine. According to media reports (Independent Online), it was “confirmed that 87 of the underground workers had been safely evacuated and brought to the surface, but the three surface workers remained unaccounted for”.
Due to operations shutting down, many people lost their jobs, becoming statistics in a country with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. As locals were swimming in a sea of despondency, a ray of hope emerged, thanks to a partnership between the community, RCL FOODS and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR). RCL FOODS is providing mentorship support to re-develop 85 hectares of sugarcane to benefit 32 members at an average of seven family members per household. The project is funded by DRDLR through its Recapitalisation and Development Programme (RADP), and the Jobs Fund.
“Supporting land reform is a priority at RCL FOODS. The Tikhontele community project is but one of the many projects that we recapitalised in partnership with DRDLR and the community. The farm has been lying fallow for nearly 10 years and through RADP… it has created job opportunities for locals, thus contributing to the local and national economy. Yet another South African land reform success story worth telling,” says Stella Mthembu, Land Reform Executive at RCL FOODS. The project is managed by RCL FOODS’ Zonke Mabuza.
The project has created almost 100 jobs so far and local residents say it came just in the nick of time. “This project is a lifesaver in terms of jobs. It employs the youth, women and old people. Most of these people working here used to work for the mine which closed down,” said Lucky Nkosi, a board member of the Tikhontele Cooperative. He added: “These people are able to use the money they earn here to send their children to school and university. Life would have been so difficult without this project. It has saved many lives in this area. The sugar industry plays a very important role in rural communities and their economies. The industry has been able to build schools and other critical infrastructure in rural areas”.
Through RADP, 90 hectares of irrigation infrastructure was revitalised and 40 hectares of sugarcane replanted. This resulted in the creation of 93 jobs by the cooperative. The plan is to replant the remaining 50 hectares through the Jobs Fund. The cooperative is the major local economic project for the Lomshiyo Tribal Authority community following closure of Lily and Bar Brook Gold Mines. Due to grower financing challenges, the cooperative had been largely dormant, with trifling farm production taking place for nearly 15 years. Once fully developed, the project will supply over 8000 tons of sugarcane to Malelane Sugar Mill (owned by RCL FOODS). This is equivalent to a day of crushing for the mill.