Mining in paradise divides residents

Australian mining giant eyes 22km of land on the Wild Coast, but project threatens to tear residents apart


Source: CityPress

Author: Sabelo Skiti

It is said to have claimed a life and deposed a king, and now a proposed mining project is threatening again to tear a small Eastern Cape community apart.

Residents of Umgungundlovu on the border between the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal have turned on each other – trading ­insults, accusations and threats in a battle over a proposed R11 billion Titanium mining operation.

Some villagers believe the battle to mine the Wild Coast, which ­began in the late 1990s, was behind the unsolved murder of its staunch opponent, headman Mandoda Ndovela, who was gunned down in Xolobeni village more than a decade ago.

Others believe that the court battle – between Zanozuko Sigcau and his deposed cousin Mpondombini Sigcau, who is opposed to mining in the area – over the amaMpondo throne is also linked to the project.

Last week Australian mining ­giant Mineral Resources Commodities renewed its bid, through local subsidiary Transworld Energy Minerals (TEM), to prospect in the area, which is home to 12

villages. Here, unmaintained dirt ­tracks pass for roads. There are no ­clinics or hospitals, and homes have no electricity or sewerage.

Development looms large on a list of promises made by TEM’s BEE partner, Xolco, in its pitch to the community. The proposed but highly disputed N2 Wild Coast toll road will make the mining possible. But those who oppose the deal fear that it will irreparably damage their land.

The project involves 22km of coastline between the Mzamba and Mtentu estuaries, and extends 1.5km inland. On the land is a ­highly threatened coastal dune ­forest and a number of plants that occur in the Pondoland region and nowhere else in the world.

Last year TEM renewed its ­licence's to prospect, for another three years, in four other blocks along the Wild Coast. But in the Kwanyana block, the dunes are ­believed to be the richest by far, containing more than 140 million tons of heavy titanium-producing minerals.

Last year government revoked TEM’s conditional mining licence after it found that residents were not consulted, as they should have been. The miner had to begin its application process again.

Fighting among the villagers has resurfaced.

Resident Jabulani Mboyisa said: “People here did not get along for a long time after this mining idea came, and we have been working hard to unite, but now this is back . . . You know very well that you would no longer go to each ­others ceremonies because of these divisions. We don’t want to go back there.”

At a meeting last week in Xolobeni village, attended by about 300 people, residents refused to sit and discuss the matter in the presence of officials they don't trust from TEM and Xolco.

Residents, led by the Amadiba Crisis Committee, said they had little to gain for their lands destruction and believed that their much-needed jobs would come from ecotourism ventures.

They also don't approve of ­Xolco, which owns a 26% stake in the mine.

“If you get this land, you will not employ us because we are uneducated. This land must be for use by the people from here,” said uMgungundlovu headman Balesheleni Mthwa.

TEM boss Andrew Lashbrooke responded that Xolco was made up of nine trusts and officials were looking into development possibilities in Xolobeni. But villager Thuleyazi Ndovela hit back, saying: “These trusts that you talk about are not known. They invited you here, but now sit at the back, and they do not sit in front with you.

“Do you know the people who brought you are considered criminals here? We know them – they are our children and we know how they are.”

Xolco chairman Zeka Mnyamana defended his company, saying the trusts “represent a range of ­development issues, such as youth development, sports, health, women, children, agriculture and various business cooperatives”.

But the residents were having none of it.

“This isn't the first time you have come here, and you know that the last time we said we don’t want mining here. How many times must we say we do not want mining? If you continue with this meeting, blood will spill,” said a middle-aged man who declined to give his name.

But there were others in favour of it.

“We're also residents here and we deserve to be allowed to make our points without being threatened,” said a former municipal counselor who declined to reveal his name. “We all know this village needs development and I am willing to support anything that brings employment and will make our lives better.” City Press