Victory for the future

14 June 2011 - 23:29 By John Clarke

Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu deserves accolades for handling the Xolobeni mining venture on the Pondoland Wild Coast.

She has revoked the mining rights controversially awarded by her predecessor Buyelwa Sonjica in July 2008 to the Australian mining company Mineral Resource Commodities and its South African subsidiary, Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources.

But the mining rights applicants have 90 days in which to make good the deficiencies in their application, and convince the Department of Mineral Resources to make a positive recommendation that will salvage their ambitions, and defeat the objections lodged by the Amadiba Crisis Committee and Sun International, owners of the Wild Coast Sun Resort.

In September 2008, the committee challenged the legality of the awarding of mining rights to the applicants.

By revoking the mining rights, Shabangu has mercifully spared the "owners" and "operators" of the Xolobeni mining venture the humiliating experience of having their misplaced optimism and rank foolishness exposed by one of South Africa's top advocates, Gilbert Marcus SC and his team.

The minister's reasoning for this solely focuses on shortcomings with respect to the environmental impacts. But it is an exquisite irony that the minister has relied on a report from the Department of Environmental Affairs to justify her decision, which only came to light three months after the cut-off date for comments on the Xolobeni mining proposal and the Environmental Impact Assessment report.

Were it not for the Promotion of Access to Information Act, two honest civil servants and a wide awake civil society organisation, Sustaining the Wild Coast, today the Wild Coast residents may have been found pushing wheelbarrows to load waiting trucks to disperse their cherished ancestral land.

The minister still has a lot of explaining to do before the affected coastal communities' trust in government will be restored.

But it is not only the affected residents who now have cause to distrust the government.

The minister has shifted the responsibility on the mining rights applicants to try and pull the fat out of the fire for them, by offering them an impossibly short 90-day window to respond.

Is this fair to the Australian partner? Especially since the "fire" which is cooking their goose was stoked up by the conduct of their BEE partner Xolco, which submitted some 3000 fraudulently acquired names of local residents and forged their signatures to claim their free and informed consent for the mining proposal.

She said the Australian company's consultation efforts were adequate. The local applicant had relied entirely on Xolco's founders, Zamile Qunya and Max Boqwana, to direct the consultation process. If this is now the acceptable bench mark of consultation, the fox is well in the henhouse, and no rural community is safe from mining rights applicants until it has been caught.

Finally, it is sobering to note that as the affected community would never have succeeded in their epic ascent to where they are were it not for the "ladders" provided by dedicated journalists, lawyers, students and activists over the years. Their eyes have been sharpened to spot the "snakes".

The hottest issue circulating in parliament at present is the Protection of Information Bill, which the ruling party appears determined to push through the legislature. MPs are urged to reflect on the following question.

Do you think the affected residents would have succeeded in their long walk to economic freedom if the legislation they are about to enact into law had been in place when their struggle started?

It is clear what the affected residents think. They voted in an entirely new batch of ward councillors who were overwhelmingly opposed to the Xolobeni mining venture during the local government elections. The point is that with Youth Day about to be celebrated, the struggle has been waged in the interest of young people, so they may have a promising and more sustainable future.

  • Clarke is a consultant social worker and development facilitator