‘Mining is a slow poison’: Xolobeni wins case, but is still wary
Community still views government with suspicion despite the court victory that halts mining on their land
The Xolobeni mining community is not celebrating yet despite its landmark victory in the Pretoria High Court in November, ruling against the mining of their land going ahead without their consent.
Speaking at an Amnesty International (AI) press conference in Johannesburg on Monday, Amadiba Crisis Committee spokesperson Nonhle Mbuthuma said she didn’t trust the government to leave their land alone.
The community took the government to court to prevent it awarding mining rights for the sand dunes to be mined for titanium oxide. Judge Annali Basson found the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act gave customary communities the right to say what happens to their land and trumped the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, which does not require community consent before the government gives mining a thumbs up.
AI lawyer John Lorenzen, also at the press conference, said it was expecting government to appeal the ruling, and it had to tell the court of intention to do so by Thursday.
The judgment set a precedent that all mining rights could only be granted if government got consent and buy-in from customary communities that lived on the land, he explained. Mbuthuma said the community didn’t trust the government to honour the court ruling: “How long will communities be vulnerable to so-called development? Why is the state not protecting citizens of South Africa and is only protecting mining companies?”
“They tried to impose mining in our community [even though] we said no.”
Mining minister Gwede Mantashe’s planned visit to the community on Sunday was postponed after they said they didn’t want him to visit them.
AI held the press conference on Monday in commemoration of global human rights day, presenting its summary of the global state of human rights. This year is also 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The community views mining as damaging to the land, rivers and sea they live off.
Mbuthuma said: “Mining is a poison. It is a slow poison. It will take time to kill you. I am not fighting for myself. I am fighting for my community to leave a better world.
“It is better to speak up than to be killed by poison,” she said.
Executive director of Amnesty International SA Shenilla Mohamed said there was seldom justice for communities.
She said: “Six years on Marikana widows are still suffering.
“It doesn’t matter what mining companies say, we know from Marikana that is not the case. When the Marikana shooting happened, five houses had been built out of 55 promised.”
Amnesty International’s report on global human rights said women’s rights often went unrecognised. In SA the rights of women were in decline, she said, with gender-based violence being the norm and low prosecution rates of perpetrators.
“It is not a great picture in South Africa. The state for rights of women in this country is really on a downward spiral. “I am very glad President Ramaphosa stepped up at some point during 16 days of activism and made commitments to deal with it.
“The courts are saturated with cases of violence and intimidation. If you are someone important and glamorous, your case will come up, and if you are less fortunate, justice will come much, much later.”
AI researcher Deprose Muchena said for women, the dangers were real. “The fact is, women get up every day and some do not come home at night because of high levels of violence.”
Muchena said crimes against women continued because there were few convictions. He said the Medical Research Council released a study earlier in 2018 that showed only 8.6% of rape cases in 2012 resulted in convictions.
“The state is failing to effectively deal with gender-based violence, even when the perpetrators are known.”