By Sheila Berry
Last Thursday morning, 7th April, from 11h00 to 14h00, while Xolobeni and Fuleni activists and their supporters were picketing outside the DMR offices in Bay House, Durban, the Minister of Mineral Resources, Mr Mosebenzi Zwane, was holding a Mining Imbizo at the obscure Ndumakuda Community Hall, Ward 13, Umzumbe, on the KZN South Coast.
While tweets from DMR are hailing the Mining Imbizo a success, mining affected communities in KZN, which include Richards Bay, Mpangeni, Somkhele, Okhukho, Fuleni, Melmoth, Colenso, Vryheid are in the dark and still unaware that a Mining Imbizo took place in KZN.
One has to question Minister Zwane’s judgement and ask how serious he is about his position as National Minister of Mineral Resources if he chooses to focus on illegal sand mining at Umzumbe instead of engaging with communities affected by controversial mining operations who have valid grievances that have been ignored for many years, if not decades.
The picket in Durban was aimed at drawing attention to the intimidation, violence and murder taking place in communities that are opposed to having mining take place on their land or in conflict with so-called legal mining operations in South Africa. These are extremely pertinent issues given the events that took place in KZN and the Eastern Cape in March 2016.
Arson in Northern KZN in March 2016
Mr Bongani Pearce’s vehicle was burned after a peaceful community protest on 14th March 2016 following 8 years of being silenced by corrupt traditional leaders, and cheated and exploited by Tendele’s Somkhele coal mine, next to the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park (HiP), in northern KwaZulu-Natal. On the western boundary of HiP, at Okhukho, on 17th and 23rd March 2016, arson attacks forced the closure of the Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC).
Murder in Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape
More seriously, in the Eastern Cape, Minister Zwane ignored the Xolobeni communities and sent his DG to deal with the outraged people who, for the past 10 years, have fought against titanium dune mining by MRC, an Australian-owned mining company, with a highly questionable track record. On the evening of 22nd March 2016, Mr Sikhosiphi Rhadebe, Chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) was assassinated by two men, posing as policemen, who shot him 8 times in the head in front of his 15 year old son.
Violence and foreign investment
Violence in the mining sector is the quickest way to scare off foreign investment – much quicker than any divestment campaign! The surest way to provoke violence is for the government to continue to abdicate responsibility for the dissension and division that is an inevitable consequence of mining, particularly when it is forced on rural communities. Lack of consultation and an unwillingness on the part of the government to consider any alternative development proposals to mining, is strengthening the resolve of mining affected communities to defend their tribal land and oppose the authorities by taking the law into their own hands. Intimidation and persecution of activists defending the environment is now recognised by the United Nations as a human rights issue.
Mining not a development plan
During an interview with the media after the Durban picket, Sinegugu Zulukulu, respected conservationist and activist from Pondoland’s Xolobeni community, who is a prominent member of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), challenged the government’s view that mining is “development”. He asks “How can something that divides and destroys communities be considered development?”
The 22 km stretch of coastline that MRC proposes to mine is a protected marine reserve. The preferred development proposals put forward by the Xolobeni communities relate to tourism development projects that will equal the value of the titanium deposits and leave the environment intact and healthy after a 22 year period, but their views have been completely disregarded.
Until the government realises that our natural environment is our country’s most valuable asset, and not our untapped mineral resources, this country’s future will remain bleak and littered with strife torn Marikanas. Several are in the pipeline.
Local filmmaker, Sphiwe Mazibuko’s timeous 9 minute documentary “UnderMining Life” commissioned by the Mupo Foundation (now EarthLore) and funded by the European Commission was shown at the media conference at UKZN. It exposes the threats to anti-mining activists in Xolobeni and KZN.