Xolobeni, along the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, has limited running water, clinics and schools. The answer, for some, lay in investment in the form of an Australian mining company, Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources, that wanted to exploit 2 867 hectares of land.
What followed was a 15-year battle, encompassing intimidation, beatings and assassinations, and that pitted neighbour against neighbour.
One of the key protagonists in the matter, a local shareholder in the proposed mining operation, Zamile Qunya, would say of those opposed to mining: “People there are not yet civilised.” Such sentiments signal a colonial mind-set that equates any technological advancement, no matter how damaging, with positive human progress.
But the people of Xolobeni will tell you that they have a life, a civilisation, much of it revolving around agriculture. They do not see themselves as poor, nor do they go to bed hungry. Their umbilical cords are buried here on their land. Their wealth is in the land. The “development” that has taken place — such as tourism — has been after careful consultation and in a way that does not displace people or disrupt how they choose to live on their land.
Thursday’s decision by the high court in Pretoria is historic. In effect, it halts all mining in the area and insists the department of mineral resources gets the residents’ approval for any future projects. It is an affirmation of those who stood up to headmen and chiefs, to a multinational corporation, to influencers and strongmen, and confirms the right of the people to the land.
In this, the Amadiba Crisis Committee, a grassroots organisation at the vanguard of this battle, has been nothing short of inspiring.