Minister breaks new ground for Xolobeni and locals dig it
The area has been frequented by ANC leaders who are pro mining, but this time it was different
ANC heavyweights seem to be divided by a fight about mining rights that has also split the community of Xolobeni in the northern parts of the Eastern Cape.
Agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister Senzeni Zokwana recently visited the area and encouraged residents to focus on agriculture rather than mining because they stayed on arable land.
Zokwana’s visit came at the same time mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe’s office said he could not go to the area because heavy rainfall had damaged the road infrastructure.
The battle between local communities and mining companies has been laid bare by the ongoing tussle between the mining ministry and the Xolobeni community.
The courts ruled in 2018 that the ministry had to obtain consent from Xolobeni residents as the holders of rights on land, before granting a mining licence to Australian-owned Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources.
The area has been frequented by ANC leaders who are pro-mining.
Last year, the Eastern Cape MEC for finance, economic development and tourism, ANC provincial chair Oscar Mabuyane, said mining brought economic opportunities, and added rural communities often were forced to migrate to mining towns for jobs.
He was quoted as saying the Eastern Cape could not say no to mining “and then pack the bags and go work in other mining provinces”.
Early this year, Mantashe called for an independent survey in the area so the community could decide if mining should proceed.
Zokwana’s spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana confirmed the minister’s visit, saying the department was in support of agriculture. “The people here grew up doing fishing and agriculture, ploughing maize and sweet potatoes for an example. We currently have 160 cooperatives, and the minister is planning to give some 15-year fishing licences and is going to support them with gear and instruments as well for that,” said Nkwanyana.He said there were also plans to farm with macadamia nuts.
“There’s a lot we can do there – more than mining in the area. There are other opportunities as the residents have also for ecotourism.”
Some in the community support mining, but a group called the Amadiba Crisis Committee, led by Nonhle Mbuthuma, is opposed to it.
She said Zokwana and his trusted advisers came “armed only with a vision for sustainable development and job creation, food and water security and support to our struggle”.
“We have invited the minister, and we were happy with his swift response. When he was here, we were satisfied by his support for agriculture for our community of Xolobeni.”
“He was honestly very positive, and was willing to come back to show his support. He said our land was rich and ready for agriculture,” Mbuthuma said.
On Thursday, Zokwana was back in the community to speak about agriculture opportunities.
This came as Mantashe’s department said his visit would have been part of the government’s ongoing engagement with the community about an integrated and sustainable development approach for the area.
“The situation highlights the importance of government engaging with the Xolobeni community on the need for development in the area ... A decision about whether mining occurs or not is yet to be taken,” said the statement from the mineral’s department.
Despite the “inadequate road infrastructure” reason from the minerals department that led to Mantashe not attending, Zokwana made it to the community on Friday.
“Mantashe knew that he was not welcomed here, hence he didn’t make it. We are not in support of people who are not taking poor rural people seriously when they are raising their critical issues,” said Mbuthuma.