The assault by the state on the community living at Xolobeni, Mbizana, in the Eastern Cape drags on as the Amadiba people are again compelled to seek the protection of the courts.
Northern Pondoland has been a hotbed of activism and violence ever since Australian mining company Mineral Commodities (MRC) expressed an interest in mining the dunes along their pristine coastline. The titanium to be extracted is required for components of tablet computers and smartphones.
The community won a significant battle in November when the North Gauteng High Court ruled that Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe will have to obtain the full and formal consent from the Xolobeni community prior to granting mining rights.
|Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe|
However the Amadiba Crisis Committee which represents the affected community of Xolobeni also opposes the SA National Road Agency's (Sanral's) advanced plans to build a toll road along the Wild Coast, linking Durban and East London. They believe the route for the highway has been shifted closer to the coast, cutting their community in half, specifically to facilitate the proposed mining operation. The action committee is now challenging these plans in court as well.
This time they are accusing the state agency of ignoring any input from the public consultation process and merely rubberstamping a pre-approved N2 highway project - splitting at least two rural villages in half - without their consent. They have said the decision by the department to allow the road to go ahead did not factor in the socio-economic impacts of a toll road to these impoverished rural communities. Sanral has been trying to build the toll road for the past 15 years.
"We are fighting over about 9km of road that we want moved and have always maintained we didn't want near our communities. This road is not being built for the people who live here but instead for the mining project," said the crisis committee's spokesperson Nonhle Mbuthuma. "We want them to move the road and we are making sure we object before they even start building it. There are five villages on its route and two are being cut through by the road," added Mbuthuma.
She also said that, during all the consultation processes they were never told what route the road would take and only found out once the environmental impact study had been completed. The villages that will be sliced in two are Sigidi, home to about 120 households, and Mdatya made up of about 200 households. It is believed 15 people live within each household.
The community's fight goes beyond just the road. They believe Sanral is compelled to build the road through these villages in order to make sure the Xolobeni mine is financially viable if and when it ever gets approval.
On 3 December they took Sanral and the Department of Environmental Affairs to the high court to have the decision reviewed and overturned. Geoff Budlender SC, representing the Xolobeni community, said the construction of the toll road would have "very serious detrimental effects on the culture, way of life and the future of the Wild Coast communities and others living in the area".
Budlender said the decision in April 2010 by the Department of Environmental Affairs to grant authorisation for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the road was also "fundamentally flawed" and should be set aside. He said the department had granted the permission without considering the socio-economic impact of tolling: "The deputy director-general and the minister took the decisions without meaningful public consultation with those who would be most affected."
Budlender said that, while it was claimed there had been a public participation process, in reality the community was told very little about the location of the road, the presentations were in a language they didn't understand and much of the material was in writing, athough the authors knew full well that many people in the area cannot read.
"The public participation process was a formalised attempt to tick the boxes of compliance, not a serious and meaningful attempt to engage with the local communities, provide them with relevant information, and elicit their opinions. Two clear alternatives - including upgrading existing roads instead of building new roads - were excluded right at the beginning of the process without adequate justification. For all these reasons, the decisions must be reviewed and set aside," said Budlender.
Arguing for Sanral, Chris Loxton SC said that, while everyone knew road access to the Wild Coast was "poor" the government "recognises and requires the development of the Wild Coast Road as a catalyst for the economic growth and development of the region".
He said Budlender had resorted to "hyperbole and emotionally laden language... without any reference to the papers at all" . He also queried whether the applicants represented the will of all the people, noting that the Amadiba Tribal Authority had withdrawn its application to review the EIA. "The facts are that there are national roads throughout South Africa. They do not divide the communities," said Loxton.
Matthew Chaskalson SC, representing the Department of Environmental Affairs, argued that the long term effects on the community would be "positive" if the road were built. The department did not have the capacity, nor was it their mandate, to consider the effects of tolling on a local economy.
[The majority of the residents of Johannesburg and Pretoria have a different view, as Sanral and the government have learned - at great expense - in recent years. Ever heard of OUTA? See below. - Ed.]
Chaskalson also said the public consultation process was "extremely wide ranging and more extensive than was required".
Judge Cynthia Pretorius is expected to deliver her judgment in February.
to deliver her judgment in February. Shortly before going to press, Noseweek received the following statement from the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC):
"Minister Gwede Mantashe and the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) are preparing a provocation in Xolobeni on Sunday 9 December".
"We have now received reports confirming that the DMR minister indeed intends to come to Xolobeni on 9 December.
"We have also received reliable reports that DMR plans to transport people from all around, even from districts in KZN, to convince the people in Xolobeni that they need mining.
"A tender has been sent out by Mbizana LM for 'mass catering' in Xolobeni.
"No contacts were made with the lawyers of the Umgungundlovu Traditional Council and ACC before this. Our lawyers early this morning instead contacted DMR, stating that there can be no meeting in Xolobeni.
"We are shocked what the Minister is prepared to do. If people from outside are brought to Xolobeni to sign attendance registers, such people or the police may also attack us, as happened on 23 September. We appeal to ANC leaders who are not personally invested in Xolobeni mining to intervene and stop this. We expect DMR to cancel these plans now.
"On 29 November, an imibizo at Umgungundlovu Great Place with 500 present decided there is no further need to engage with DMR on the matter of 'Xolobeni Mining Project'. This was also communicated today to DMR by our lawyers [Richard Spoor Inc.].
"The affected Umgungundlovu community has said No to mining for 15 years. We have now also got a judgment on 22 November that we have the Right to Say No. We instead expect [hope for] a visit from the Departments of Agriculture and of Tourism."
Nonhle Mbuthuma, spokesperson for the Amadiba Crisis Committee, says she has been in regular contact with the Head Woman, Ms Duduzile Baleni, and that they are both concerned about the safety and physical security of the people that they serve and their land.
"We are worried who the advisers of Mr Mantashe are, and what can be the pressure on him, so that he is prepared to take this dangerous step.
"If Minister Mantashe isn't pleased with the judgment he can appeal. It must be filed within 20 working court days from 22 November.
"We will alert the Human Rights Commission if the Minister does not cancel his provocative meeting," the Amadiba Crisis Committee wrote.
A day later the minister announced that he had cancelled his plans to visit Xolobeni on 9 December.
Gauteng marches against its own toll
It is not only the Amadiba who are fed up with having expensive toll roads foisted on them. On 5 December, DA candidate for the Gauteng premiership Solly Msimanga led a march against e-tolls through central Johannesburg to the office of Gauteng Premier David Makhura. Also at the head of the march were Joburg's Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba, Midvaal Executive Mayor Bongani Baloyi and DA Gauteng Provincial leader, John Moodey.
They handed Makhura a petition with more than 50,000 signatures calling on him to insist that the M1 freeway e-toll contract would not be renewed when it ended on 31 December 2018.
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