South Africa’s wealth has been built on the back of extractive industries and the toil of Apartheid’s inhumane migrant labour system. Times have changed and political systems overturned but in our relentless pursuit of wealth, we are at risk of killing the goose that lays the golden eco-tourism egg undermining the human happiness values of community and sufficiency.
In March we saw the assassination of Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Radebe, chair of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) which has steadfastly opposed titanium mining at Xolobeni on the Pondoland Wild Coast in South Africa. The community opposes the mine because they will be displaced and lose their land, livelihoods and cultural heritage in an unspoilt landscape, a biodiversity hotspot and centre of plant endemism which offers unprecedented eco-tourism potential.
The majority of the community also do not want a toll road which they say is “a calf that is carried by the mining cow”. The proposed mine will destroy 24 kms of coastline, five major fish breeding estuaries and future ecotourism potential. In return, it will provide a handful of menial jobs for the local community for 17 to 20 years.
The Amadiba have been promised that with the mine will come improved infrastructure like water, electricity, local roads and clinics, but the community asks why they have to sacrifice their land to benefit from what all South Africans have been promised since 1994.
Apart from a small minority, the local people know that the long term ecotourism prospects and their cherished agro-ecological traditions and self-sufficiency will create far more employment, wealth and long term benefits. In contemporary South Africa food security and employment is a growing challenge. The mine will create another displaced community adding to the growing number of people who are dependent on social grants and food aid.
The current conflict, assassinations and death threats are being laid at the feet of the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). Government has been told, “This is our land, and no one is going to take it away from us,” but DMR won’t take “NO” for an answer.
The police consistently support those with mining interests and there have been no further investigations into Bazooka’s assassination or any arrests. Nor has there been action on the assault on E-news photographers who were beaten up when covering his funeral. “White outsiders” have been blamed for fermenting the trouble, just like the Apartheid government’s claim that African dissatisfaction was fermented by white liberals. As if the people do not know what is right or good for them.
Now a new actor has appeared on the stage. A local Pondo businessman will take the place of MRC, the Australian company which has withdrawn its interest because of the escalating community conflict and resistance. Suspicions run high. Who is providing the capital for this local entrepreneur? The potential for serious conflict between the local community and those with mining interests is intensifying.
What is behind the government’s belligerent refusal to listen to the people? It is money, kick-backs and profits for well-connected politicians and business partners. Tragically, what is happening to people on the Wild Coast and their priceless landscape and cultural heritage is being replicated across our country and around the world.
In April enraged members of the rural community neighbouring the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park again protested against the Fuleni coal mine. Facing relocation, the homes of several thousand families, two schools and a clinic are earmarked for demolition in order to accommodate the mine that threatens lives, livelihoods and the iconic iMfolozi Park, another vulnerable eco-tourism hotspot.
At Fuleni there is an immense amount of money to be made for the already wealthy with vested interests. Who are the beneficiaries? It will not be the people on the land, nor will it be the adjacent wilderness sanctuary. South Africa promised to cut its carbon emissions at the climate talks. We know that we have to stop burning coal. Why are we even dreaming of opening new coal mines?
The rural communities of Fuleni and Xolobeni share common concerns. They are united in their opposition to mining. They are up against powerful adversaries. In his budget speech, Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane said that “those who were against the mines would have to be persuaded to see government’s point of view.”
All over the world, similar marginalised communities face threats from mining corporates and government officials with deep pockets. Only a minority will benefit from the millions to be made from mining and the extractive industries. Is it corruption that allows us to jeopardise the future well-being of our people and planet? Has our moral compass become so skewed and our vision so myopic that we value short term profit above the wellbeing of present and future human communities and the planet, our common home?
SAFCEI is supporting a court challenge to the DoE’s approval of the N2 Wild Coast Toll road. Going to court is a costly business. Please help by donating to https://www.givengain.com/cc/StoptheWildCoastTollRoad/
*Written by Kate Davies