We don’t want your development

by Jan 21, 2013Magazine

The people of Mpondoland are determine theird to save their land from mining by an Australian company which wants to tear apart their pristine coastal dunes to mine titanium. Four years ago, they succeeded in reversing a decision to allow the destruction of the Wild Coast, but now they must resist a fresh attempt. This is a story that resonates with worldwide struggles over land as aggressive extractivism for minerals escalates.

Mpondoland encompasses a beautiful stretch of coastal land in the Eastern Cape province, from the mouth of the Mthatha River in the south, to the Mtamvuna River in the north.

Through the 1800s, various parts of this territory were absorbed into the British Cape territory and later it became part of the Transkei Bantustan. In 1861, the whole of Mpondoland was finally annexed, and the following year the area was used by the Cape Administration for Griqua resettlement.

Now 150 years later, it seems mining houses want to annex it again, this time to extract heavy mineral deposits: but activists are not taking this lying down. Four years ago, the Pondo community won a landmark case against the Australian company MRC, preventing it from plundering its ancestral lands for heavy minerals. Mining rights for the Wild Coast were awarded in July 2008, but the minister of minerals and energy, Buyelwa Sonjica, was persuaded to revoke the licences.

An internal review process found that objections raised by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (as it was then) had not been satisfactorily addressed, and it had not been shown either that the venture met requirements for ecological sustainability or that mining was an appropriate land use decision from an economic development perspective.

At the forefront of resistance was the Amadiba Crisis Committee, formed under the jurisdiction of the Mgungundlovu Tribal Authority in June 2007. The ACC was set up in response to efforts by a private company, ironically called the Xolobeni Community Empowerment Company (Xolco), to force people to accept MRC’s proposals.

In May this year, Xolco approached the tribal authorities and asked permission to talk to the community. They claimed that they wanted to finish some incomplete studies from their previous project when they in fact had lodged a new prospecting rights application.This stirred up anger and conflict as the community is struggling to sustain an eco-tourism venture — which Xolco is accused of actively undermining. ‘If the Department of Mineral Resources had any respect for the planning proposals for the Wild Coast or prevailing legislation governing mining, they would not have even allowed the application to be submitted in the first place,’ said ACC member Nonhle Mbuthuma.

MRC and its consultants then called a mass meeting to comply with the legal requirement for ‘public hearings’ before prospecting rights could be granted to them. Over 400 members of the Amadiba community attended the meeting and unanimously rejected the application to mine. Later that day, MRC went on to ‘consult’ the community’s traditional leaders organised under a ‘Tribal Cabinet’.

The 20-person ‘cabinet’ echoed the views of the community, flatly refusing to meet with the mining company. They shouted: ‘There is no meeting. Go away!’ Thus ending a the renewed confrontation. The ACC is now calling on the Minister of Land Affairs to arrange for the Independent Electoral Commission to supervise a process whereby a formal communal land rights resolution can be adopted to place the matter of the local residents wishes with respect to the Xolobeni mining venture beyond all doubt.

Update: “Sorry, we forgot 30 holes”

The Australian mining company has now revised its prospecting rights application. It now includes the boring of 30 holes. They did not want to disclose this in May or they simply had to correct a logical error. If the application was ‘new’, why did it say that the prospecting was already done? On 28 November, a regional management meeting was held by the DMR in East London. The politicians did not hide their sympathies for mining, but were forced to oblige the company to “further consult the interested and affected parties”. The Australian capitalists and their BEE comrades must meet the community again. This is communal land. The struggle continues.

On the previous project, we had launched a complaint against MRC to say we don’t want mining AT ALL on the Wild Coast, and reminding them that the government cancelled mining rights in 2008. Why did the Department allow them to launch another application? We asked to see the approval for prospecting rights, but they didn’t give it to us. During the previous project, they had bribed people from the community with clothes and R400 — bribery failed.

Members of the Crisis Committee worked with the tribal authority and on environmental education for all the people. At the moment, we are focussing on schools: there is a gap between human beings and nature. We want our children to understand nature and what we mean by protecting it.In the 1960s and the 1980s, Pondo people were forced accept the development plans of the government.

In the 1960s, there was a Pondo revolt, the apartheid government tried to push the people off the land and to keep it for themselves. The Pondos defeated the Boers. We are the farmers. Many people died and were thus sentenced to death in Pretoria.

The message today is that people from Pondoland will refuse mining on their land at all costs. There will be no negotiations or concessions made with the mining companies.

Where is the government? Why are the mining people coming alone? On previous projects, the Department of Minerals and Energy came to apologise because they didn’t know everything. This time, the government didn’t even pitch, and allowed the company to make a second application.We don’t trust the government to protect us. Especially Land Affairs. It is their responsibility, but they didn’t even do anything.

What I think is that the government is behind the company, pushing them to get mining rights. We never know if they’ll come back, but we are ready. We’re waiting for them.

Amadiba Crisis Committee member Nonhle Mbuthuma: stop it before it starts!

In early May 2012, consulting company GCS and the Xolobeni Community Empowerment Company (Xolco) approached the tribal authorities and asked permission to talk to the people. They claimed that they wanted to finish some incomplete studies from their previous project. “The tribal authorities called for an imbizo (meeting) in May and we mobilised in large numbers throughout the area. On the day, Xolco and GCS’s presentation revealed that they had launched a new application to start the project afresh. The proposal was that they would only mine in one of the five areas identified as resource-rich. For us, it was completely unacceptable. They had lied about wanting to finish a previous study. We repeatedly questioned them to no avail. They wouldn’t speak !On top of it all, they had the indecency to put up posters throughout shops and schools that said that the Department of Minerals and Energy had approved their mining license for the Kwanyana block.

The posters read, ‘If you have any concerns or questions, send them before the 25th of May.’ But they had put up the posters on the night of the 24th!

Written with the help of Dick Forslund and Jeanne Hefez. 

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