“Enough is enough. We will not move!” This is the heartfelt cry from a rural community in KwaZulu-Natal, whose members believe that ongoing coal operations affecting a wilderness area, which is home to the Big Five, has to stop.
The area under threat is the iMfolozi wilderness area, part of the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, where coal mining activities in Somkhele are causing irreparable damage to the environment and impacting negatively on the community.
A month ago, the neighbouring Fuleni community learnt that Imvukuzane Resources is applying for a prospecting right over the whole Fuleni Reserve, an extensive area that runs along the south eastern boundary of the iMfolozi Wilderness.
Among those assisting the neighbouring community in their determination to halt the mines and any further mining concessions is the Global Environmental Trust (GET), whose ambassador, Sheila Berry, spoke to us about the trust’s goal and mission.
“There is so much passion and courage in these communities. The people are determined that any further plans to mine for minerals like coal in their area is an absolute no-no and must be stopped.
“When you listen to the heart-breaking stories of families who, far from benefiting from mining, have seen their homes, livelihoods and communities destroyed, you realise that their cry for help is part of a global call for radical intervention and immediate action.”
”The area under threat of mining abuts the iMfolozi wilderness reserve, part of a sanctuary set aside for the Southern White Rhino 110 years ago, one of the most endangered species on the planet. It is where the battle to save rhinos from extinction is ongoing.”
“Communities living next to this protected wilderness, where their ancestors used to live, have an innate respect for the environment,” says Berry.
“Rural Zulu farmers have generations of knowledge and traditional experience of how to use the environment for their wellbeing and many are dedicated to ensuring the wellbeing of the environment and forests, streams and other places sacred to them.”
“It is a symbiotic, beneficial partnership that has lasted for centuries and they certainly don’t want to see it destroyed.”
Berry explains how the GET trust works.
“What the trust does, is to assist vulnerable communities to seek justice in a way that is constitutionally acceptable and upholds human rights and human dignity, as well as the rights of nature.”
“The law applies to all, including the mines. The Get recently discovered that the Tendele coal mine has been operating illegally for years and on August 24, our case will be heard in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.”
” The footprint of the mine, which is on the eastern boundary of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park as one enters it, has been increased by a massive 222km2 that will affect thousands more people over the next 30 years, until 2046.”
“GET and the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) appealed against the mining rights, but the minister turned down the appeal and so now we have to take it on review to the Pretoria High Court.”
“We have to keep up the pressure for what is just and right – an enormous challenge in the current climate.”
The current heated discourse on the expropriation of land without compensation has, says Berry, brought the question of community justice and protest action to centre stage: “It is not going to go away. Somehow the country has to deal with the fact that so much land in South Africa is governed by private trusts like the Ingonyama Trust in KZN and a large proportion by the country’s municipalities.”
Within the ambit of expropriating land without compensation is, Berry says, the whole question of mining and mining concessions.
“Vulnerable communities could face the prospect of having their land literally snatched from beneath their feet with little or no redress. This is where organisations like GET and affiliated NGOs play a significant role.”
More than three decades ago Berry, a psychology graduate, was introduced to the founder of the Wilderness Leadership School, the late Dr Ian Player.
“His passion and concern for the environment and the Earth’s indigenous flora and fauna was inspiring. He made you understand there was no time to lose in trying to make a difference.”
“I joined the Wilderness Leadership School and, before long, left the corporate world behind for good. For me it was the start of an incredible journey of learning and under-standing. I am still very much on that journey. In many ways it has only just begun.”
Working hand-in-hand with the organisation, EarthLore, Berry, who is now its director, believes South Africa’s strong NGO community is playing a significant role in promoting the concept of social and environmental justice.
EarthLore, Berry explains, focuses on the environment and traditional farming practices and governance, looking at issues such as food sovereignty, sustainability, drought and climate change. EarthLore says Yes to Life while GET says No to Mining!
“Given the enormous challenges facing the planet, there is an imperative for like-minded people and civil society and NGOs to work together to achieve our goals of a better quality of life and to wage war against greed and exploitation, particularly when it affects the environment and those with few resources to fight back.”
For Berry, there is no question of backing away: “I’m in for the long haul. That’s the way it is.”
This article first appeared in the Sunday Tribune on 5 August, 2018.