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Pondoland Wild Coast Xolobeni mining threat, South Africa


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. 

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:Establishment of reserves/national parks
Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Land acquisition conflicts
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
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.

Historical evidence suggests that the amaMpondo people have lived in the area for at least 500 years.

It is unlikely that the company would be able to rehabilitate the area after mining.

In July 2016, the Australian company left. As reported (by Sikonathi Mantshantsha) , the Pondoland community of Xolobeni on the Wild Coast tasted rare victory in its 13-year fight against Australia’s Mineral Resources Commodities (MRC), which said it would be selling its 56% stake in its controversial project to mine an environmentally sensitive piece of coastal land. MRC said it would be disposing of its stake in the mineral sands project to Keysha Investments. The anti-mining activists, however, are not satisfied with the Australians’ departure. "Their selling the stake is just playing games," said Nonhle Mbuthuma, chairwoman of the AmaDiba Crisis Committee. "We did not say we don’t want an Australian company mining here. We said there will be no mining on our land." As of yet however, MRC's divestment has yet to occur, and little is known about this firm, apart from the fact that the company's registered address is in Centurion, near the national capital of Pretoria - far from the Eastern Cape - and that its sole director is Mzwandile Maxwell Maraqana, an aspiring politician who ran as a national candidate in 2019 for the African Transformation Movement (ATM). A court decision in November 2018 ruling in favour of the community's right to reject mining offered a glimmer of hope, but was soon met with a legal appeal filed by Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe. In filing the appeal Mantashe argued that decisions on mining belonged to the state, and handing power to communities would have "chaotic" consequences. As of yet, no judgement has been handed down on the MMR's appeal. However, in another case, a legal decision was made on Monday 14 September 2020 by the North Gauteng High Court, stating that affected communities have a right to see applications for mining licences. This ruling was hailed as a “game-changer for mining-affected communities in South Africa”, improving the position of communities in their negotiations with mining companies. However, this ruling is likely to be ineffective in the face of tactics used by mining companies to pressurise residents of mining affected companies to move, and in view of ongoing threats of violence. In November 2020, Nonhle Mbuthuma received a death threat by text, indicating the tenacity of the mining companies, and their intent to obtain community "consent" through any means possible.

Project area:3000
Level of Investment:In 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
Institutional changes
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.
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Violent targeting of activists
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
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.

Xolobeni split over mine in ‘a land of plenty’ business/news / 22 April 2016, by Dineo Faku

How the assassination of Bazooka Radebe will affect future mining in Xolobeni..The week that was in Mining with Warren Dick, editor of

Resource rich Xolobeni eyed by Australian company for mining exploits, radio interview with both sides, 7 April 2016

22 November 2018. Adrian Mitchley reports on the landmark court decision.

Mail&Guardian - High Court rules in favour of Xolobeni community in historic mining rights case

Alex Mitchley 22 Nov 2018 11:21

Daily Maverick Op-Ed by Hali Healy, November 2020, "Xolobeni and Somkhele: More assassinations feared as state drags its feet"


Game-changing Xolobeni judgment orders applications for mining licences to be made public

By Estelle Ellis, 14 September 2020

Mining Weekly Article , July 2011. MRC says SA subsidiary to respond to Xolobeni environmental concerns

The Citizen - 22.11.2018 . Court rules in favour of Xolobeni residents opposing Wild Coast mining

Ground Up staff, 23 April 2016, Opponent of Xolobeni titanium mine assassinated. Others fear for their lives

12 Feb 2016 - Tariro Washinyira. We will die for our land, say angry Xolobeni villagers as dune mining looms

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

UnderMining Life: Activists threatened in South Africa, Earthlore. Sphiwe Mazibuko's 9 minute documentary exposes the intimidation

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




Community members at Tshwane High Court

The Tshwane High Court says the Community has the right to full and informed consent before a mining right is granted over their ancestral land. Image: JohanLorenzen/twitter Source: