The Australian company, Mineral Commodities Ltd. (MRC), through its subsidiary Transworld Energy and Minerals (TEM) and local partner Xolco, proposes to mine ilmenite, rutile, zircon etc from old sand dunes at Xolobeni on the Pondoland Coast.
Approximately 40 km long and up to 3km wide, the area falls within the Pondoland Centre of Endemism (PCE), a globally recognised botanical hotspot. If allowed, the mining and associated N2 tollroad proposal will adversely affect the PCE as well as amaMpondo peoples traditional land.
Mining first strips all vegetation, then uses giant dredge ponds to extract minerals for processing at smelters elsewhere. Large quantities of fresh water and electricity from coal fired power stations in South Africa would be needed.
If mining proceeds, local people would need to leave the land that supports their agrarian livelihoods, traditions and spiritual and customary land-use practices.
Mining will bring conflict and crime, increase HIV infections, and split communities from each other and from resources they depend on. Dust, noise, and chemical pollution of water will degrade the environment and undermine the wellbeing of local communities.
Although the authorities deny any connection between the mining and N2 road proposals, mining there would not be viable without better roads.
The Xolobeni saga, which dates back several years, involves the proposed open-cast mining of titanium ores and other minerals from a 22km stretch of ochre-coloured sand dunes south of Port Edward in the Amadiba traditional area by Australian company Mineral Commodities (MRC). Should it go ahead, the mining would displace more than 200 households. The future of the open cast operation to mine ilmenite for titanium, rutile and zircon on pristine sand dunes, hangs in the balance. In July 2016 the Australian company vowed to divest its shares after the tragic events of March 2016.
In March 2016, opponents of the plan to mine in the Xolobeni area in the Eastern Cape feared for their lives after the chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe, was assassinated on 22 March 2016. Rhadebe was shot eight times outside his house in Lurholweni township at Mbizana. The committee represents community members who are antimining and have been fighting the mining development for the last 10 years. They argue that tourism should be the mainstay of the economy in this "Wild Coast", which hold remarkable biodiversity. Committee member Nonhle Mbuthuma told GroundUp that just before his death Rhadebe had phoned her to check on her safety and that of another committee member, Mzamo Dlamini. He had spoken of a hit list on which his was the first name and hers and Dlamini’s the second and third. An hour and a half later, he was dead. Two men had knocked at the door saying they were police officers. “After one year of threats and attacks, we have been waiting for something like this to happen,” said Mbuthuma in a statement issued after the assassination. The crisis committee had said the Amadiba coastal community “will not be intimidated into submission. Imining ayiphumeleli! (mining will not succeed)”. During an imbizo called to discuss violence in Xolobeni village in January, Mbuthuma told amaBhungane that strong opponents of mining were being targeted. For this reason she and Dlamini had decided to move to Port Edward and commute to Xolobeni daily for their work in the community. Rhadebe also had addressed the gathering, saying: “If all of you are intimidated you can leave, but as for myself I am not going to leave my home". Community members say the mine will mean the removal of people from the land and the destruction of their livelihoods. The Amadiba Crisis Committee accuses MRC and its local partners and allies of using violence to intimidate the community into accepting the mine. The committee says police in the area are on the side of the mining company. Mbuthuma described in a statement months of violence against opponents to the mine, including armed attacks against community members in May and December last year, threats and attacks against the headwoman, Cynthia Baleni, who opposes the titanium mine, and raids by police against opponents to the mine. Several people have been injured, some seriously. Members of the Pondo nation are deeply divided over the proposed mine, which has manifested in intimidation and violence as tensions intensify as some oppose and others accept the mine. According to some interpretations, apart from the search for ilmenite for titanium in other coastal areas of South Africa and elsewhere, there are facts which are related to South African current politics. The murder of “Bazooka” Rhadebe marks a crisis that has been building for over two decades around land and chiefs in rural black South Africa. The context of his murder is a scramble for self-enrichment by chiefs which is not confined to the Wild Coast. A raft of laws since the advent of democracy has progressively given power over land and people to traditional leaders. A delay of almost 10 years after the first democratic elections of 1994 in defining the roles and powers of chiefs created a vacuum into which some ambitious chiefs drove their agenda of being local despotic sovereigns like many were in Bantustans. The laws that have been passed, starting with the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act of 2003, have failed to create sufficient mechanisms for rural citizens to hold their chiefs to account. With the discovery of minerals on land that was considered of little value under apartheid and to which black South Africans were consigned by laws such as the Group Areas Act, things have gone from bad to worse for ordinary citizens. Many chiefs are scrambling to push themselves to the forefront of empowerment companies for self-enrichment from mining deals. This is the case in Xolobeni. Anti-mining activists claim that two of the most prominent local mining advocates, are Zamile Qunya and Amadiba chief Lunga Baleni. The first is the founder of the Xolobeni Empowerment Company (Xolco), the empowerment partner of Australia-owned Mineral Commodities (MRC), which is pushing for mining on the Wild Coast. Baleni became one of Xolco’s directors in 2014. Qunya is a director of MRC’s other South African operator, Tormin, the controversy-plagued dune mining operation on the West Coast. The countryside is sliding into ever more violent confrontations between people and their supposed customary leaders. The government just keeps making things worse. This has become obvious with regard to landholding and decision-making about communal land in recent years. Land restitution for people who had been dispossessed of their land under apartheid began with the opening of the land claims process in 1994. The window to submit claims closed 1998. The Communal Property Association Act of 1996 created a mechanism for people who successfully submitted restitution claims to hold their restitution land communally and make decisions collectively. Chiefs expressed vociferous objections to this arrangement and some simply allocated restitution land belonging to CPAs to others, claiming that the land was historically theirs. The consequences for some CPAs have been devastating. What is alarming is that these traditional councils are undemocratic institutions in which women generally have insignificant representation. Chiefs focused on advancing their own interests in mining deals and so occupied the vacuum in ways that would shape rural politics to their advantage. They clamoured for the state to recognise their vision of rural governance as a return to African ways that had been destroyed by colonialism and apartheid. The state has capitulated. Ruling elites in rural areas have captured the state in their own ways, often working in tandem with capital and representatives of political parties at local, regional and national levels. The consequences are devastating for ordinary citizens: crumbling houses due to mining on their doorsteps to which they have never consented, revenue that should be going into community development funding lavish lifestyles for a few, and much more. Those who call for accountability pay the price. Bazooka Rhadebe is dead. Bazooka’s death must not be in vain.
(Background: Kamleshan Pillay,2015, The Xolobeni Heavy Minerals Sans Project on the Wild Coast, South Africa, EJOLT Factsheet n. 27).
Two and a half years later, in November 2018, David Fig reported from South Africa: "Xolobeni triumphs". On 25 November 2018, a long-awaited high court judgment in South Africa ruled that the way in which mining companies must operate in relation to rural communities, the subjects of customary law, must change. In the past, mining companies have resorted to superficial consultation with communities or their designated leaders in order to gain mining licences. From now on, the principle under which licences must be granted has to rest on community consent that is “full and informed”. In principle, communities now have the right to withhold consent. This judgment led to ecstatic celebration in the Xolobeni area of the country’s Wild Coast, situated in the rural Eastern Cape. For many years the community has been organised in the Amadiba Crisis Committee, which has consistently argued against the government granting a mining licence to the Australian-owned Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources company (TEM), keen to exploit the titanium-rich lands on which the community lives. It was the Amadiba Crisis Committee that brought the case to court, and while the ruling was welcome, success is far from guaranteed, as Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe lodged an appeal, and a final ruling (already long-delayed) has yet to be handed down. Meanwhile SANRAL, the state owned enterprise in charge of transport infrastructure, has mobilised massive investment in a highway project upon which mining will depend.