/ 28 August 2008

Xolobeni mining ‘can’t be stopped’

Thirteen years ago a strong environmental campaign saved the St Lucia dunes from being mined. This time the Minerals and Energy Department will not be swayed by public opinion, a senior official told the Mail & Guardian this week.

”The St Lucia decision was a political decision that had the ANC’s support,” said Jacinto Rocha, department deputy director-general. ”At Xolobeni it is significantly different.”

The region, one of the poorest in South Africa, needs mining desperately, Rocha said, explaining last month’s decision to grant Australian company Mineral Commodities the right to strip-mine a 22km stretch on the Wild Coast.

”People argue that ecotourism is the best option for the people there, but where has ecotourism ever attracted major investment?” Rocha said. ”Mining helps to pay the Kruger Park’s electricity bills. Without the capital that mining brings, you couldn’t have parks like Kruger.”

Rocha said the mining consortium’s application was faultless and the department had no reason to refuse it — in fact, it could have been sued if it did so without good reason.

Activists from Sustaining the Wild Coast challenged Rocha’s claims. Its director, John Clarke, said there were huge problems with the consultation process and the behaviour of the Australian company.

There have been numerous reports of intimidation and foul play during the mining application process, prompting the South African Human Rights Commission’s intervention.

Despite the huge public backlash, it appears opponents of mining were caught napping — Rocha said the department had not received a single objection during the 30-day objections period. ”They are making a big noise outside, but they did not make the right noises through the right channels,” he said.

People were wasting their time ”toyi-toyiing on a beach” and should follow correct procedures by lodging an official appeal with the department or going to court, said Rocha.

Community leader Mzamo Dlamini countered that the community could not fathom the objections process. And since the company applied for a permit three years ago, MRC consultants had been everywhere trying to sweeten the deal for the community.

He indicated that the community might go to court to stop mining.

Mining rights do not fall under the ambit of the department of environmental affairs. Environment Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, who has publicly opposed the mining stance, allegedly only learned of the Wild Coast mining concession from the media.

Rocha said his department was under no obligation to inform Van Schalkwyk or the environment department. ”We consulted them during the licensing processes, so we were well aware of their views,” he said. ”And we considered their final late application — even if the media reported otherwise.”