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Pondoland Wild Coast Xolobeni mining threat, South Africa

The Xolobeni titanium mining project by Australian company Mineral Commodities (MRC) was opposed by the Amadiba Crisis Committee since 2005. In 2016, ACC leader "Bazooka" Rhadebe, was assassinated. The conflict continues as the state presses ahead.


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.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Pondoland Wild Coast Xolobeni mining threat, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Eastern Cape
Location of conflict:Xolobeni, Pondoland
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Ilmenite, Rutile, Zircon
Iron ore
Titanium ores
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Xolobeni deposit is cited on MRC website as being the 10th largest heavy mineral deposit in the world, estimatd at 346 million tonnes. Mining is proposed over 6 blocks over 25 years.

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Project area:3000
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectIn 2020 Sanral announced it had promised to invest R15,6 bn (over 1billion USD) in transport infrastructure over the next 3 years
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:10,000
Start of the conflict:2003
Company names or state enterprises:Mineral Commodities Ltd. (MRC) (MRC) from Australia - through its subsidiary Transworld Energy and Minerals, South Africa and Xolco, South Africa
Transworld Energy and Minerals (TEM) from South Africa
Xolco from South Africa
SANRAL (South African National Roads Agency) (SANRAL) from South Africa - SANRAL is driving a contested highway construction project upon which the mining project will depend.
Relevant government actors:Department of Mineral Resources, Department of Water, Department of Environmental Affairs, Department of Land Affairs, Department of Transport
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute (SAFCEI), Wilderness Foundation, Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC), Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Protest march, Newsletters, Websites, Legal action
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Waste overflow, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Other Environmental impactsDisplacement of existing agriculture and resource use into other areas will lead to increased grazing pressure and over-utilisation of other resources such as medicinal plants and animals hunted for food.
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsWater pollution, dust pollution, noise pollution, degradation of natural resources relied upon by local communities affecting these communities ability to survive eg destruction of grazing lands, fields, gardens, water resources, spread of HIV infection.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsLost economic opportunities in ecotourism. Spread of social diseases and corruption of traditional values.
Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Violent targeting of activists
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
The mining application was initially submitted without adequate consultation with the community. Laws of the country were not followed. Used a top-down approach. Officials undermined the rights of local people because they are illiterate. Mining would take away land that local people use as a source of livelihood. Local customs regarding appropriate pathways for community consultation through elected village elders were ignored. Listening to local peoples views on their preferred development options instead of sidelining these, proper compliance with legislation and prosecution for human rights abuses and intimidation could go a long way towards resolving the issue.
Proposal and development of alternatives:Low impact development based on proposals by the affected communities, that will strengthen community capacity to develop their own small-scale community based eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture projects. Upgrading of local roads to connect villages to local towns, rather than building a tolled inter-city highway.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The community has been assisted by the NGO Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC) in linking to legal aid, media contacts, social workers, other NGOs etc. to inform people of their rights and how to access other resources. Affected communities formed the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) to coordinate community resistance to the mining. The case became very well known after the killing of "Bazooka" Rhadebe in March 2016, and although the 2018 court ruling in favour of the community was a positive development, pressure to implement mining in Xolobeni is growing. In 2020 SANRAL announced plans to make a major investment in transport infrastructure for a highway project that will be essential to mining Xolobeni. In November 2018, the current spokesperson for the ACC, Ms. Nonhle Mbuthuma, received a death threat by text. In the wake of the Co-vid pandemic, the country is relying heavily on minerals extraction to try to rescue its economy. It is therefore highly likely that tensions will begin to rise soon.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

South African Constitution, South African National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), Transkei Decree, Coastal Conservation Management Act. Mineral Resources and Petroleum Act

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Defending land, Life and Dignity - Women Speak Out. International Women and Mining Network. Tanya Roberts Davies. Jan 2010. pages 16-18.

Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. 2010. Ecosystem Profile. Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Biodiveristy Hotspot. Final April 2010. Conservation International Southern African Hotspots Programme and South African National Biodiversity Institute.

Guyot,S. and Dellier, J. 2010. Rethinking the Wild Coast, South Africa. Ecofrontiers vs Livelihoods in Pondoland. University of Limoges. France

De Villiers, D and Costello, J. 2006. Mkambati and the Wild Coast. Wilderness Safaris.

Setting the boundaries of a social licence for mining in South Africa. The Xolobeni Mineral Sands Project. Ichumile Gqada. South African Institute of International Affairs. Paper 99 Nov 2011. -

Rural South Africa is on a Precipice. Countryside sliding into ever more violent confrontations. By Mbongiseni Buthelezi and Sithandiwe Yeni, 21 April 2016. OPINION | SOUTH AFRICA

Le Tran, D., Martinez-Alier, J., Navas, G. and Mingorria, S., 2020. Gendered geographies of violence: a multiple case study analysis of murdered women environmental defenders. Journal of Political Ecology, 27(1), pp.1189-1212.
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Xolobeni split over mine in ‘a land of plenty’ business/news / 22 April 2016, by Dineo Faku
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How the assassination of Bazooka Radebe will affect future mining in Xolobeni..The week that was in Mining with Warren Dick, editor of
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Resource rich Xolobeni eyed by Australian company for mining exploits, radio interview with both sides, 7 April 2016
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22 November 2018. Adrian Mitchley reports on the landmark court decision.
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Mail&Guardian - High Court rules in favour of Xolobeni community in historic mining rights case

Alex Mitchley 22 Nov 2018 11:21
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Daily Maverick Op-Ed by Hali Healy, November 2020, "Xolobeni and Somkhele: More assassinations feared as state drags its feet"
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Game-changing Xolobeni judgment orders applications for mining licences to be made public

By Estelle Ellis, 14 September 2020
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Mining Weekly Article , July 2011. MRC says SA subsidiary to respond to Xolobeni environmental concerns
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The Citizen - 22.11.2018 . Court rules in favour of Xolobeni residents opposing Wild Coast mining
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Ground Up staff, 23 April 2016, Opponent of Xolobeni titanium mine assassinated. Others fear for their lives
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12 Feb 2016 - Tariro Washinyira. We will die for our land, say angry Xolobeni villagers as dune mining looms
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

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UnderMining Life: Activists threatened in South Africa, Earthlore. Sphiwe Mazibuko's 9 minute documentary exposes the intimidation
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Other comments:
Kamleshan Pillay, The Xolobeni Heavy Minerals Sands Project on the Wild Coast, South Africa, EJOLT Factsheet No. 27, 3 p., 2015
(Mail and Guardian, 22 Nov 2018). The minister of mineral resources will have to obtain full and formal consent from the Xolobeni community prior to granting mining rights, the Pretoria High Court ordered on Thursday.The Amadiba Crisis Committee launched a court battle against the department of mineral resources and Australian company Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources (TEM) over mining rights earlier this year.TEM, which is the fifth respondent in the matter, had filed an application for rights to mine the titanium-rich sands at the mgungundlovu area of Xolobeni on the Wild Coast. In her judgment, Judge Annali Basson declared that the mineral resources minister must obtain consent from the community, as the holder of rights on land, prior to granting any mining right to TEM.
Meta information
Contributor:Val Payn – Save the Wild Coast Campaign (SWC) (updated, JMA)Updated again Nov 2018, jma)(updated 24 Jan 2021 by Hali Healy)
Last update24/01/2021
Conflict ID:240
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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