Obituary: 'Bazooka' Radebe, defied politicians who backed mining of pristine dunes

03 April 2016 - 02:00 By Chris Barron

Sikhosiphi "Bazooka" Radebe, who has died in an apparent assassination in Mbizana in the Eastern Cape at the age of 51, was the leader of a fiercely fought campaign to stop an Australian company and its local BEE partner from mining along a pristine stretch of the Pondoland Wild Coast. The community, whose land this has been for 500 years, has argued that the opencast titanium mine - at 22km long and 1.5km wide - will irreparably damage its natural heritage and destroy the livelihoods of residents and their way of life.Radebe led the Amadiba Crisis Committee since its formation in 2007 to oppose the granting of mining rights to Mineral Commodities Limited.Much blood has been spilt between those who oppose mining and those who support it, including a minority of the Amadiba community and the company's BEE partners, who include local politicians, councillors and business people.There has been intimidation, harassment, physical violence and attempts to bribe anti-mining activists into compliance. Radebe's death brings to four the number of crisis committee members who have been killed since the battle began.story_article_left1The first real test of Radebe's leadership came in 2008 when the then minister of minerals and energy, Buyelwa Sonjica, announced that the government would award mining rights to the Australians and their BEE partners.Shortly afterwards he led a delegation from the crisis committee in a meeting with pro-mining members of the provincial legislature in the mayor's office in Bizana.He brought his own cameraman along to record the meeting. When the politicians objected, he made it clear that unless the meeting was recorded there would be no meeting."Camera with us or nothing," he said. The meeting proceeded, but Radebe, famous in the community for having "backbone" and integrity, refused to be seduced by the politicians' attempts to cosy up to him.When snacks were brought in he declined to partake."Thank you, Mr Mayor, for the refreshments and food," he said, "but the ACC has a policy not to eat any food that we have not prepared ourselves or by our wives. It is not that we don't trust you, but there have been attempts to poison us before."Radebe's team gave the politicians a lesson in how the venture capital market worked and how to trade shares on the Australian stock exchange."We tell the people what the government doesn't tell them," he said, "who the Australians are who want to steal our land."He and his committee won an extraordinary victory when Sonjica apologised to the community later and said she was suspending the mining rights. When Jacob Zuma became president, she was moved from the mining portfolio.Led by Radebe, the community appealed against the mining licence, which was revoked three years later. Mineral Commodities renewed its bid for a licence last year, and since then tension in the area has risen sharply.Radebe was born on July 9 1964 in the village of Mdatya in Amadiba. He worked on a gold mine in Johannesburg before taking early retirement and going "home". He made a living driving a taxi and fixing cars.block_quotes_start He was a peacemaker, always ready to defuse tensions with a joke, always seeking to engage in discussion block_quotes_endHe was called "Bazooka" by his soccer-loving father because his skills on the field reminded him of the Brazilian player who was called Bazooka. In fact, and although he left South Africa in the '80s to join Umkhonto weSizwe, he was a most unwarlike person, who risked unpopularity by exhorting the crisis committee to resist violence at all costs."What we need to be is strategic," said Radebe.He was a peacemaker, always ready to defuse tensions with a joke, always seeking to engage in discussion and to appeal - somewhat naively, his friends thought - to a common humanity.When he asked a senior representative of the Australian mining company in 2007 if he understood that the efforts to mine would lead to bloodshed, he was told there was seldom "development" without blood.When asked last year to comment on the community's resistance to the mining plans, Mark Caruso, executive chairman of Mineral Commodities, used a biblical quote made famous by two assassins in the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction: "And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger ..."An hour before being shot eight times outside his home by two men pretending to be policemen, Radebe phoned a fellow member of the crisis committee to say he had heard there was a hit list of those opposed to mining, and he was on it.He is survived by his wife and three children.1964-2016

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