STORMS DURING MINISTER MANTASHE’S WHIRLWIND TOUR OF KZN & XOLOBENI
By Sheila Berry
Minister Mantashe’s whirlwind three day roadshow to major mining hotspots in KZN and the Eastern Cape last weekend has understandably focussed on the arrest of human rights attorney Richard Spoor and the tear gassing and use of stun grenades against protesting Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) members in Xolobeni, on Sunday 22nd September.
However, it is important to place on record that the minister’s visits to the two communities in Northern KZN bordering the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park (HiP) were also not without incident, though not as dramatic as the scenes from Xolobeni.
These visits dashed the hopes of many for open, honest and even-handed engagement with minister Mantashe. Like his predecessors, he has been brazenly pro mining, and it was clearly a tactic on this tour to block genuine voices of communities impacted by mining. It has left many people dissatisfied that meaningful consultation with directly affected communities and the minister is possible.
On Friday, 21st September, the minister spent five hours meeting with Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) and left the expectant KwaMlaba/Ukhukho community members waiting for hours for their chance to speak to Mantashe – an opportunity denied to them. Instead, when the minister eventually emerged from the mine, he and various other pro-mining speakers spent the next forty minutes praising ZAC, a mine with a long history of ignoring legislation, worker unrest, strikes, violence, and community dissatisfaction and complaints that go unheard.
In 2015, ZAC was exposed for illegally opening three new pits without the necessary environmental authorisations, and was found guilty of contravening the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) and non-compliance with health, safety and environmental regulations, and was temporarily closed in June 2014. Concerns about acid drainage and contamination of water sources that feed HiP were also raised that have yet to be satisfactorily addressed.
Last year, two activists were murdered: one was shot by a driving contractor for ZAC and another man was beaten to death by two policemen from Pinetown, 250kms away! To date, no arrests have been made though the identity of the murderers is known.
The Ukhukho community has also strongly objected to a depot for mine waste set up in their community and opened with great fanfare by King Zwelethini two years ago. Even more significant was the closure of ZAC by Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) officials on Monday, 16th September, the week of the minister’s visit. It had not operated all that week yet not one word was said about this. The mine resumed operations the Monday after the minister’s visit, on 24th September.
Without giving the aggrieved community a chance to say one word, the minister announced that it was getting late and he needed to leave. He and his entourage climbed into their vehicles and drove off leaving behind stunned and deeply disappointed community members. One should not be surprised or blame the frustrated community if there is an escalation in the burning of coal trucks, strikes and picketing that has become the hallmark of ZAC’s operations.
On Saturday, 22nd September, the minister repeated the same process at Somkhele on the eastern side of HiP, near the main entrance to the Park. He spent three hours inside Tendele mine, engaging with mine management, trade union members and workers. Again, when he eventually met with the long-suffering community, there were the usual speeches of praise – this time about Tendele mine and the CEO, Jan du Preez, for the good work and benefits they bring to the community. No mention was made of the recent High Court application against Tendele by the community organisation MCEJO and GET for the mine’s lack of compliance and other complaints [Links here and here].
After the speeches, the minister walked out without giving the Somkhele/Mpukunyoni community an opportunity to speak. With one voice the tent erupted.
Since 2004, directly affected community members have tried without success to engage with the various ministers and the Department of Mineral Resources of South Africa. On Saturday, when they saw the door being shut in their faces again with all the attempts that were made to make sure community members were not given a chance to express their collective pain, they rose up and said No! Minister Mantashe come back. We demand to have an opportunity to present our issues and be heard by you. This surely would not have happened if the minister had had his way and another expensive opportunity would have been missed by the government of hearing evidence that rectifies the distorted one-dimensional engagements that typify DMR’s modus operandi. It is apparent that minister Mantashe and his department had all the intentions of sabotaging their own visit.
Mantashe was forced to return and appease the angry gathering and had to give the floor to the community. He allowed only seven speakers who criticised the mine and repeatedly called for justice to be served and for the law to be be applied. Affected community members, who have lost their sources of income and have had their lives and health destroyed by living in close proximity to the mine, spoke openly about their suffering. All the stories were about how Tendele is impacting on people’s human rights and the negative impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the greater Mpukunyoni area. A 56 year old Mr Ndlovu, broke down and wept as he narrated how, after being removed from his home, he struggled to lay daily bread on the table for his children. More testimonies followed as the community spoke of their suffering and poverty resulting from mining in the area that takes away and pollutes their land and water. One woman had with her, a bottled sample of polluted water from her tank at home.
Not one person spoke in favour of the mine or mentioned anything positive about Tendele.
The impacts of the mine also threaten the HiP, KZN’s flagship tourist attraction, established 110 years ago as a sanctuary for the last remaining pocket of Southern White rhino on the African continent, and providing thousands more sustainable jobs than the coal mine right on the Park’s boundary that the minister has allowed to expand by a massive 222km2 for the next 30 years until 2046. This despite the SA signing international protocols and treaties committing the country to decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels, particularly coal. The reality is that in 2015, the coal mining sector, arguably the most environmentally damaging mining activity, accounted for about 0.5% of the national workforce. With the technical developments rapidly being favoured by the mining industry, like self-drive vehicles, and robots for security, the number of jobs currently filled by local community members is likely to decrease dramatically.
By the end of the input from the community that included handing over memoranda (view PDF – Zulu) prepared by two community organisations, MCEJO and Mpukunyoni Community Property Association (MCPA), the minister promised that DMR would assemble a task team to address the issues raised by the community. Its first meeting(s) will be held on Monday 1st and Tuesday 2nd October 2018 at the Protea Hotel, an unfortunate venue choice. Before its conversion into a 3-star hotel, it was used by the apartheid regime as a place to torture and murder so-called “enemies of the state”.
From Somkhele, the minister and his department travelled to the much publicised violent visit in Xolobeni. When Richard Spoor appeared in court last week he was charged with assault of a policeman, refusing a lawful order, and incitement to public violence. The case was remanded until 25 October.
Meanwhile the government is still to deal appropriately with the Marikana massacre and to prioritise the arrest of the two men, posing as policemen, who murdered Sikhosipi Bazooka Radebe, a leading activist in Xolobeni, who was shot seven times in the head in front of his 15 year old son. This happened more than two years ago. There are several other deaths of anti-mining activists nationwide fighting for justice that remain unsolved and numerous anti-mining activists across the country continue to be subjected to intimidation, violence, damage to property, and their lives threatened.
One thing that became clear during the minister’s tour is how effective mining is at splitting communities into a few beneficiaries who are decision makers on one side and the masses who are left with nothing on the other side.