By Tony Carnie
VIOLENCE and social upheaval sparked by an Australian dune-mining application on the Wild Coast has forced Mining Minister Mosebenzi Zwane to put a halt to any mining applications in the area for 18 months.
Zwane declared the moratorium in a notice in the Government Gazette last week, citing the “significant social disintegration and highly volatile nature of the current situation in the Xolobeni area” just south of the KwaZulu-Natal border with the Eastern Cape.
Residents of several villages in the area have come under attack over the past two years and prominent anti-mining activist Bazooka Radebe was gunned down in Mzamba earlier this year, following bitter disputes sparked by the dune-mining application by Perth-based Mineral Resource Commodities.
The Australian company announced separate plans two months ago to bail out of the project and sell its financial interests to a local black economic empowerment group.
Zwane said the moratorium on mining would remain in place for the next 18 months, or until he was satisfied that the community conflict and unrest had been resolved. Local community leader Nonhle Mbuthuma hailed the moratorium as “a small but important victory for the coastal Amadiba community”.
“People feel they can go back to their gardens and fields now. We hope there will now be a break from murder, violence and police harassment.
“The government knows very well that our community doesn’t want mining. We are all self-employed. We will not approve so-called ‘development’ that destroys our land.”
The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and Richard Spoor Attorneys, representing 128 residents of the Xolobeni area, confirmed that objections had been filed against the mining proposal and that a court application would be launched in the High Court, Pretoria, this morning.
“Fundamentally, the objection noted that Mineral Resource Commodities failed to seek the consent of the community. The community argues that they have constitutionally recognised customary rights of ownership over the land that were flouted by the mining right application.”
The LRC and Spoor also wrote to Zwane two weeks ago demanding an assurance that the mining right would not be granted without the consent of the community.
“We gave the minister until September 9 to give this assurance, failing which, on behalf of the members of the Xolobeni community that we represent, we would file a ‘declaration of rights application’ in the high court based on the minister’s power to prohibit or restrict prospecting or mining.
“In that letter we also said that applications for prospecting and mining rights in respect of our clients’ land has resulted in conflict, division and violence that has had a very negative impact on the Umgungundlovu community and the wider Amadiba community.
“Our clients have a real concern that absent any agreement, the award of a mining right would worsen the situation.
“While customary law and the rights arising from it are fully recognised by the constitution, few communities have been able to assert these successfully in practice. The Umgungundlovu community’s application for a declarator confirming their rights will be a significant step in realising the historically neglected customary ownership rights of rural communities.”