Wild Coast faces new mining threat

The presidency was this week drawn into the heated debate over mining the Wild Coast, after Australian company Mineral Commodities launched a new application for prospecting rights in the mineral-rich protected area.

John Clarke, a social worker representing local communities and environmental organisations, sent a detailed report on the ongoing mining debacle to Collins Chabane, the minister in the president’s office responsible for performance monitoring and evaluation, asking him to intervene.

The report, documenting how several government officials had thwarted the Amadiba community in their fight against plans to mine heavy minerals in the dunes of the Wild Coast over the past decade, was also sent to six other Cabinet ministers.

“These ministers have collectively failed in their constitutional obligation of co-operative government by allowing a disgraceful situation to develop on the Wild Coast with respect to the Xolobeni mining versus ecotourism issue,” Clarke said.

“The report is a stinging indictment of the ANC’s ambivalence over mining policy due to vested interests, the erosion of the rule of law and the emasculation of the traditional leadership system because it has been the only governance system that has served local land rights.”

It asked Chabane to investigate alleged corruption involving high-level officials, the deaths of at least two local community members and the beating of schoolchildren by police. The report also alleged the intimidation of anti-mining residents and the deliberate sabotage of a closely knit community to further commercial goals.

Presidency chief of staff Kgomotso Maaroganye said Chabane had received the report, but spokesperson Harold Maloka was unable to comment on its contents. Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Richard Baloyi also confirmed receipt of the report.

Xolobeni residents have put up a united front against the new prospecting application in the wake of public consultations convened late last month by Mineral Commodities’ South African subsidiary, Transworld Energy & Mineral Resources, and its empowerment partner, Xolco. According to the companies, Xolobeni contains the 10th largest heavy mineral deposit in the world.

“The whole community is against mining. Out of the 300 people at our meeting maybe 10 would have supported it because of jobs, but they were silent,” said Mzamo Dlamini, chairperson of the Amadiba crisis committee, a conflict resolution structure set up under the traditional leadership system.

The mining companies held public consultations as part of the process stipulated by the mineral affairs department for prospecting rights to be granted. The companies applied for new rights after Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu last July revoked a mining licence granted to Mineral Commodities in 2008.

Economic activity
The amaMpondo royal house said mining was a short-term economic activity with long-term negative impacts, whereas ecotourism could have an unlimited lifespan.

“Mining the Wild Coast is simply absurd. It can be likened to the slaughter of rhino for their horns: the destruction of endangered species of life for the short-term commercial profit of greedy foreigners,” said amaMpondo King Justice Mpondombini Sigcau.

Once thriving ecotourism ventures had suffered badly with the prospect of mining hanging over their heads, said Val Payn, spokesperson for non-governmental organisation Sustaining the Wild Coast. “Mining totally undermines the lifestyles communities live here and the kind of development they want,” she said.

“Reports that the communities are divided over this issue are a misrepresentation. The only people who support mining are those who live outside the areas that will be affected and who want jobs.”

Xolobeni in the second-most species-rich floristic region in Southern Africa. It is part of a protected area and commercial mining or prospecting can only take place with the written permission of both the ministers of environmental affairs and mineral resources.

Co-operative governance
The two ministers this week received copies of Clarke’s report, titled “Co-option, subversion and offensive exploitation: The failure of co-operative governance for the Amadiba community of the Eastern Cape”. It was also sent to the ministers of transport, police, tourism, rural development, and co-operative governance and traditional affairs.

It documented several alleged violations committed since mining became a serious option in the area, including the murder of a subheadman, Mandoda Ndovela, in 2003 and the suspicious death of anti-mining resident Scorpion Dimane in January 2008.

Other allegations included collusion between the mining companies and high-level officials in the departments of minerals and trade and industry; the suppression of crucial environmental information by a corrupt official in the environmental department; and the submission of false and fraudulent information by the mining companies to the mineral resources department.

Pupils at a junior school in Xolobeni were beaten by police in September 2008 in apparent frustration over Shabangu’s withdrawal of the mining rights, Clarke said. Three policemen allegedly lined them up and hit them with sjamboks.

“Each and every child in the school was beaten. The majority of the learners were from homesteads in the affected area and knew that their parents were overwhelmingly opposed to the award of the mining rights, and felt obliged to obey their parents,” he said.

Underlying problems
Clarke said these incidents had been reported to the Human Rights Commission, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the public protector and the Cape Law Society, with mixed results but scant progress.

“The community and civil society can only do so much. Unless government co-operates with them to uphold the rule of law and restore a climate of peace, the underlying problems will continue to fester and undermine their efforts to promote sustainable livelihoods and revive the community-based ecotourism initiatives that once thrived,” he said.

Transworld spokesperson Andrew Lashbrooke said, although he had not seen the report, Clarke’s allegations had not gone anywhere because they had no substance.

“He has made complaints and laid charges against us, but all the officials have come back to him and said there is no case to answer,” he said.

Lashbrooke said most people who had attended the recent public consultations were in favour of mining, “but some people are more vocal than others. History has shown that the opponents are in the minority.”

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Fiona Macleod
Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod is an environmental writer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and editor of the M&G Greening the Future and Investing in the Future supplements.

She is also editor of Lowveld Living magazine in Mpumalanga.

An award-winning journalist, she was previously environmental editor of the M&G for 10 years and was awarded the Nick Steele award for environmental conservation.

She is a former editor of Earthyear magazine, chief sub-editor and assistant editor of the M&G, editor-in-chief of HomeGrown magazines, managing editor of True Love and production editor of The Executive.

She served terms on the judging panels of the SANParks Kudu Awards and The Green Trust Awards. She also worked as a freelance writer, editor and producer of several books, including Your Guide to Green Living, A Social Contract: The Way Forward and Fighting for Justice.

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