‘We will oppose mine, even if they kill us’

After many years of resistance to stop the government’s attempts to issue a mining licence to an Australian company, Mineral Commodities Ltd, the case launched by the community of Xolobeni in Mbizana in the Eastern Cape was heard in court for the first time this week.

Two South African legal minds crossed swords at the North Gauteng High Court, with the department of mineral resources represented by Advocate Vincent Maleka SC, and the Xolobeni people, under the banner of their activism group, Amadiba Crisis Committee, represented by Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi.

Coincidentally, Ngcukaitobi is author of a new book titled The Land is Ours.

Richard Spoor, lawyer for the Amadiba Crisis Committee, said their main argument in court was focused on the right of the people of Xolobeni to say “no” to mining of any kind on their land.

Spoor questioned the state’s argument that proposed mining in Xolobeni was in national interests, saying the government cared only about profits, and not about people’s lives.

He said: “How is it in the national interest for an Australian company to come here and make money at the expense of our people?

“This is mining for the sake of the profit of an Australian mining company, and not a particularly reputable one either but rather with a very dodgy record in Africa, Asia and South Africa in the Western Cape.

“Although the Xolobeni people might appear poor, they have a good quality of life and they are happy with their lives. They love their land.

“They are saying, you can keep your mining jobs. We want to keep our land and keep our lives and keep the way we have been living for generations. We don’t want to lose our land.”

Spoor also took exception to the state’s submission that it did not really need the consent of the community to go ahead with mining in the area, saying this thinking was “incredibly arrogant”.

“Who decided we must put this Australian mining company’s interest before our own people’s interests?

“If you want to make a big development decision like this, you do a cost-benefit analysis. You say what are the costs associated with mining and what are the benefits. You do a study and work out whether or not this is good for us. No such study has been done. The government doesn’t know what the impact of mining is going to be in the community and is not even worried about that,” Spoor asserted.

He said whatever decision the court made on the matter was bound to be challenged, but they were confident the court would come to the community’s assistance.

The mineral resources department said the matter was still subject to the court’s decision.

In the meantime, there is currently a moratorium on the granting of the application in question, and no further applications for prospecting and mining authorisation will be accepted or granted in the area until the moratorium is lifted.

Judgment on the matter was reserved on Wednesday.

Nonhle Mbuthuma, Amadiba Crisis Committee spokesperson, who travelled to Gauteng this week to attend the court case, said she was relieved their voices were heard in court.

“For the first time in many years, we were able to sleep. We have been in this struggle for more than a decade and some have even lost their lives. We are happy the courts have finally listened to us and heard what we had to say,” she said.

Mbuthuma said the state intimidated them because it saw their opposition to mining as chasing away investors.

“If the courts agree with the state on the issue, we made a decision that we don’t want a mining company on our land so we will continue to put our bodies on the line to prevent mining from taking place. On that decision we are unshaken, even if they kill us,” she said.

Former minerals resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane placed an 18-month moratorium on the Xolobeni land mining application in 2016, following tensions and violent confrontations between pro-mining and anti-mining groups of the community at Xolobeni.

The tensions led to the death of anti-mining activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, who was chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee. He was shot and killed at his home in Xolobeni, an assassination the community believes is linked to the Xolobeni mining divisions.

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