Coastal mining saga a powderkeg

Waiting: Xolobeni residents wait to prevent miners from drilling on their land. The photograph was posted on facebook after the expected miners failed to arrive on Monday this week.

DESPITE threats that miners would use force, if necessary, to “drill for water” in the Xolobeni area on Monday this week, more than 200 angry residents of the coastal Amadiba community waited in vain to defend their land.

The mining company failed to arrive.

Tension is rapidly growing among the Amadiba, a community torn in two by more than 10 years of controversy, threats and violence surrounding the proposed Xolobeni Heavy Mineral Sands project. Many residents, including members of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, are opposing attempts by Transworld Energy and Minerals (TEM), a South African subsidiary of the Australian mining company, Mineral Commodities, to exploit the rich heavy mineral reserves along an almost pristine 22km stretch of Wild Coast shoreline.

The project area, Xolobeni, is situated about 30km south of Port Edward, adjacent to Mkambati Nature Reserve. It is the home of the Amadiba Tribal Authority, the traditional landowners who have local authority vested with them. Although the Xolobeni sands harbour rich mineral resources, the anti-mining lobby has always maintained eco-tourism would be a much more lucrative and sustainable option for the area.

In July 2008, the mining company was granted the right to mine one of four blocks in the Xolobeni project area but, after a protracted legal battle, the mining rights were withdrawn. TEM has, however, renewed its bid to mine the sands by reapplying for mining rights. Violence has flared as the community has tried to prevent the mining company and its environmental consultant from having access to their land.

Recently, Chief Lunga Baleni, a director of Xolco, the BEE partner of TEM, announced that the mining company would be drilling in their area on Monday this week.

It was then that he issued the threat that force would be used if the community tried to stop the mining company from drilling.

According to the anti-mining group, the Amadiba Crisis Committee, the community was relieved that the mining company did not arrive on Monday.

However, crisis committee members said they were still very concerned that TEM would proceed with its proposed activities as there was a complete blackout of information from TEM regarding its intentions on community land.

“In an effort to ease tensions, our lawyers have sought to engage with TEM to seek clarity on its intentions. They have emphasised the importance of consultation prior to engaging in such activities on the community’s land. These efforts have been utterly rebuffed. TEM’s attorneys stated that they had been instructed not to give us any information at all. We are left in the dark,” said Amadiba Crisis Committee members Nonhle Mbuthuma and Mzamo Dlamini.

They claimed TEM’s flagrant disregard of the community and its customary law was increasing the prospect of conflict in an already strife-torn area. Residents were anxious as they waited to see if and when TEM would attempt to drill on their land. They called on TEM to answer their lawyers to facilitate engagement with the residents of Xolobeni.

“We have also sought to engage with the SAPS to encourage them to protect us and keep the situation calm. There is a heavy police presence. Despite our efforts, the police are also not providing any information regarding TEM’s intentions,” they said. They stressed that the crisis committee had always renounced violence and would continue to do so. Given its conduct, they were concerned TEM was trying to provoke a violent response that would result in Xolobeni residents being arrested. It was also clear to them that that TEM was seeking to divide the community in order to access its minerals.

For these reasons they urged Xolobeni residents to continue to maintain the peace.

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  AUTHOR
Judi Davis
Reporter

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