Would-be Xolobeni miner has ‘broken’ West Coast promises

The Australian mining company seeking the right to mine in Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape has been lashed for its treatment of a Western Cape community and accused of breaching its legal obligations.

In the Matzikama municipality along the West Coast, resentment lingers against Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC).

In 2012, the company’s Tormin mine acquired the rights to mine 15km of beach along the Matzikama coast for heavy mineral sands — zircon, garnet and titanium minerals rutile and ilmenite. Today, Tormin stands accused of breaching that 15km boundary to the point where a 17m cliff below it has collapsed.

It is operated by MRC’s South African subsidiary, Mineral Sands Resources (MSR).

A new report by global poverty alleviation nonprofit Oxfam, spurred by Xolobeni residents’ resistance to MRC’s bid to mine titanium along the Wild Coast, shows how the mine allegedly breached the terms of its mining rights agreement.

Oxfam found that MSR had not delivered on its upliftment programme, despite revenues of R750‑million and a profit of R150‑million after tax in 2017.

“It appears MSR’s modus operandi is to do what it wants to do, regardless of the regulatory environment within which it exists or the priorities of other role-players,” Oxfam said in its report.

For a company to acquire mining rights from the mineral resources department, it must submit social and labour plans with detailed upliftment projects aimed at correcting historical injustices and supporting mineworkers, according to the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.

In 2015, the department reported that 36% of mining companies had not reached their social and labour plan targets. The Western Cape had the highest rate of noncompliance at 87%.

The Matzikama municipality says it has yet to see Tormin’s social and labour plans for the area.

“We don’t know what Tormin is doing … We’ve tried to engage on several occasions but they don’t engage with us,” Matzikama town planning director Lionel Phillips said.

Although MSR had budgeted for a number of projects around the site of its West Coast operations, such as adult education, Oxfam says it’s unclear whether these were ever completed and how much was spent on them.

After a strike in 2015, the mine moved swiftly, however, to complete one project, the Koekenaap Resource Centre, ahead of schedule. Most of the striking workers were Koekenaap residents.

Oxfam said MSR admitted there had been “subdued production” because of the six-week protest. It then began putting more money into helping the Koekenaap community.

This week, residents of Xolobeni were in the high court in Pretoria in a bid to stop the mineral resources department from granting MRC mining rights without their consent.

“We are completely in the dark about what is going to happen. The community is going to suffer a loss. How is the community going to live? Where are they going to grow their food? None of that has been provided in this mining plan,” lawyer Richard Spoor argued on behalf of the Amadiba Crisis Committee and other Xolobeni residents this week.

At the West Coast mining operation, Tormin hired 40 labourers from Xolobeni to try to influence them to “look favourably on the proposed mine”, Oxfam claimed. These workers told Oxfam they had lived in fear at Tormin, because the Matzikama people were competing for jobs.

“According to one ex-MSR employee, workers from Xolobeni were offered more training, were promoted more often, were not required to prove their qualifications, and were offered higher salaries than local employees from within [Matzikama],” Oxfam’s report said.

For those living in Xolobeni, the mine’s attempt to win them over has failed. “It may be to the benefit of my client but if it is for their benefit, why should it be done without their consent?” asked advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, who also represents the residents.

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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