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Sun Oct 02 00:18:45 SAST 2016

Anti-miners on the Wild Coast attacked with pangas, knobkerries after mass meeting

TMG Digital | 01 January, 2016 09:05
The Wild Coast area where Xolobeni Mineral Sands‚ a project of Australian company Mineral Commodity Limited plans to mine 22km of dunes for heavy minerals such as titanium. File photo.
Image by: http://www.mineralcommodities.com/

Five villagers returning from a mass meeting opposing mining on the Pondoland Wild Coast were attacked by about 10 men armed with knobkerries and pangas.

This incident is the latest in the ongoing battle by many residents in the Amadiba tribal area who have‚ for years‚ fought a mining rights application by Xolobeni Mineral Sands‚ a project of Australian company Mineral Commodity Limited (MRC). It plans to mine 22km of dunes for heavy minerals such as titanium.

The clash was between those who were for and those against mining‚ Captain Mzukisi Matidane told News24 on Thursday.

The mass meeting was also in defence of Umgungundlovu headwoman Cynthia Duduzile Baleni‚ whose home in Mdatya was earlier searched by a group of men‚ the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) said in a statement on Thursday.

The ACC was established in 2007 and is supported by residents who value their land and environmental rights‚ saying these are greater than mining rights.

The ACC said three people were badly injured in the attack and that four men had been arrested in Mdatya village. “Mr Zamile Qunya and Chief Lunga Baleni were at the Mzamba police today‚ seeking to bail the four men out from prison‚” the ACC said in its statement.

Mineral Commodities Limited’s wholly owned subsidiary‚ MRC Resources‚ entered into a loan agreement for R14 million with Blue Bantry Investments 255. Blue Bantry is MRC’s black empowerment partner‚ according to Africa Mining. MRC’s other partner is Xolobeni Empowerment Company (Xolco). MRC and Blue Bantry have a 50% shareholding in Mineral Sands Resources (Pty) Ltd‚ which owns the Tormin mineral sands project in the Western Cape.

Zamile Qunya is an MRC employee and a director of Blue Bantry‚ while Baleni and his wife are directors of Xolco. According to customary law a chief is supposed to play a mediating role in conflicts.

The ACC says one of the men arrested is an MRC employee at Tormin.

The four men are expected to appear in Mbizana Magistrate’s Court on Monday‚ January 4.

The princess and queen of the Quakeni royal house of AmaMpondo are now intervening on behalf of the Amadiba community to try to stop residents being intimidated.

Tuesday’s violence follows an incident on April 29 2015‚ as reported in the Daily Maverick by John Clarke‚ a theologian‚ writer and social worker who has lived on the Wild Coast for a decade. “Confident that since they had the authority of the Amadiba chief Lunga Baleni to back them up‚ [EIA consultant Pieter] Badenhorst returned with a larger team‚ who travelled in a convoy led by [Perth-based miner Mark Victor] Caruso’s local agent and community ‘fixer’‚ Zamile Qunya to gather data for the EIA‚ their difficulty increased.

“Soon after the convoy had entered the Amadiba Tribal area‚ word travelled faster than their convoy and by the time they had reached turnoff to Xolobeni‚ the consultants were confronted by a barricade of logs and brushwood on the road‚ manned by an ever-growing group of angry residents. When more local residents arrived to reinforce the barricade and stiffen the protest‚ the consultants decided to retreat.”

Then on May 3 2015 an elderly woman was beaten with a knobkerrie and hacked with a bush knife by a group linked to the Xolobeni Mineral Sands mining rights application. Shots were fired late at night‚ causing a mother to flee from her home in fear and hide in the Mntentu river gorge with her month old twin babies.

An interdict was then sought to prevent the aggressors from intimidating‚ victimising and assaulting members of the Umgungundlovu community.

MRC’s Tormin Mineral Sands‚ 40km from Vredendal on the West Coast‚ has also been rocked by controversy. Tormin employees went on a five-week strike over wages and working hours in September and 10 are now facing public violence charges. And 25 workers suspended after the strike were given new contracts and told not to join the National Union of Mineworkers.

Yet‚ according to GroundUp‚ cases against three Tormin mine managers have been withdrawn. A supervisor apparently drove into a striking mineworker‚ a foreman was accused of using a loader to throw a burning tyre on to a vehicle during the strike and the general manager allegedly ordered two security guards to fire at a gyrocopter flying over the mine.

Tormin has also been accused of environmental violations. According to a report in the Mail & Guardian‚ Tormin expanded the mine without authorisation under the National Environmental Management Act; mining garnet in violation of the environmental management plan; mining in conservation areas; using unauthorised roads to transport products; and pumping raw sewage into the sea. It also is said to have caused a sea cliff below its processing plant to collapse which was too close to the cliff in breach of approval conditions.

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