King steps in to solve Wild Coast mining standoff ...
Community will be destroyed, says one side. Most people are jobless and survive on grants, says the other
The community of Xolobeni in Bizana, Eastern Cape, is not just fighting to keep a mining giant from the door. Now they are at loggerheads with the local king who they accuse of siding with the miner.
After a tense standoff between the Amadiba Crisis Committee and Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe two weeks ago, the community again said they are prepared to die to protect what is rightfully theirs.
In response AmaMpondo king Zanozuko Sigcau said he needs to meet with all involved and find a solution.
“If my community don’t want the mine and there are those who support it, I will sit down and listen to both sides where we will try and see what is right for our people.”
Mantashe visited the area with other political leaders to talk to the community about the stalemate, but chaos erupted, ending in the arrest of human rights lawyer Richard Spoor.
At issue is a proposed titanium mine project by Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources, a subsidiary of Australian company Mineral Commodities. According to Mineral Commodities, if the mine were to be approved, it would take two years to be built at a cost of R2bn and create about 300 jobs during its construction phase.
It promised 650 full-time jobs for the 25- to 30-year life of the mine. The local community would also benefit from a 26% shareholding in the project. Times Select has seen documents of at least three shelf companies that were formed by community members who had hoped to benefit from the proposed project, which is mostly in the small town of Mgugundlovu.
Some community members, through the Amadiba Crisis Committee, vowed that not even the government or traditional leaders could convince them to change their minds. They said they were never consulted about the minister’s visit, and when they tried to engage with him police intervened.
The crisis committee’s spokesperson, Nonhle Mbuthuma, said it has reached a point of no return.
“We are saying and we will say it again: we don’t want mining in this community. We are ready to die if we have to stop this mine. Many have died for this cause and we are not backing off. Our great-great-parents are buried here,” she said. “We have rights, we are South Africans and even if we are from a small community our rights must not be trampled by those who say they are in power.”
Mantashe’s attempt to talk to residents about conflicts as a result of the prospecting right application, and the moratorium currently restricting applications, quickly escalated. Spoor, representing the crisis committee, was arrested and charged for disobeying a police officer’s instruction, inciting public violence, and common assault.
Spoor, who has been released on warning, will be back at Bizana Magistrate’s Court on October 25.
Amnesty International condemned this, calling for proper investigation, and said community members have the right to peaceful assembly.
In September 2016, former mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane put an 18-month moratorium on the mine as there were plans to review the differences within the community.
In 2008, Mineral Resources received a mining licence from the mining department, which was overturned due to a lack of consultation with stakeholders including communities. Its subsidiary in SA, Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources, applied for another licence in 2015. However in 2016 Zwane imposed an 18-month moratorium on the issuing of mining rights in the area due to conflict between those for and against mining. The moratorium is due to end in two months’ time.
Mbuthuma said Sigcau seemed to be supporting the mine and has not even made an effort to listen to the crisis committee. “He’s supporting projects planned for this area that will destroy our culture and traditions. We would like to talk to him about what we feel is good for our people. As a traditional leader, he should be leading the way,” she said.
But Sigcau said he was not anti mining or pro mining, but supporting what is good for his subjects. The Xolobeni area is part of a marine protected area where commercial prospecting and mining cannot take place according to Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003. Commercial mining can only take place with the written permission of the minister of environmental affairs and the minister responsible for minerals and energy.
At present there cannot be mining in the area as no community resolution has been passed to authorise it. The department of land affairs has advised the community that mining can only take place if the Amadiba Community pass such a resolution.
King Zanozuko said many people are unemployed and living in poverty and they would appreciate projects that uplift them.
“The truth is, 98% of our people are poor and mainly survive on social grants ... these people are assuming that I am pro mining after a fake signature of mine was found in some of the documents. What do I know about mining? My view is always clear: allow the environment impact assessment first, and see what is good or not for our community,” said Sigcau.
To which Mbuthuma responded: “We would not be challenged in our land and we won’t be bullied.”
Zamile Qunya, representing a group supporting mining operations in the area, said the most of the people of Xolobeni supported the mining project.
“If you come to this village, the majority of our people are poor and which community would not want development? We are in support of the development and the crisis committee led by Nontle Mbuthuma are not going to win. We will succeed in this fight for the benefit of these people,” said Qunya.