Xolobeni mining standoff goes to court

Umgungundlovu headwoman Duduzile Baleni and several Xolobeni residents and ward councillors have launched an urgent high court application to interdict pro-mining factions from threatening or assaulting those opposed to dune mining in the area.

Members of the community, who are bitterly opposed to the recent application by an Australian mining company to mine the dunes at Xolobeni, alleged in court papers they had been threatened, intimidated and harassed by people with an interest in the mining right application.

Australian mining giant Mineral Resource Commodities’ (MRC) South African subsidiary, Transworld Energy and Minerals (TEM), has – for the third time – applied to strip mine mainly titanium in the mineral-rich Xolobeni sand dunes on the pristine Wild Coast. Respondents in the urgent application before the Grahamstown High Court are cited as Zamile Qunya, who Baleni alleges in an affidavit, is employed by MRC as a community liaison officer, his brother Zamokwkhe Qunya, Amadiba traditional community chief Lunga Baleni and Sizwe Shezi.

Baleni alleges they all have a direct financial interest in TEM via related entities such as the empowerment company, Xolco. Another Bizana resident, Ntethelo Madikizela, is also cited.

The Legal Resources Centre in Grahamstown and Johannesburg attorney, Richard Spoor, are representing those seeking the urgent interdict. Baleni says in her affidavit that members of her Umgungundlovu traditional community had lived in the area for centuries, subsisting on the land through grazing livestock and cultivating crops. She says it is a peaceful crime-free community.

But, she says the various applications for mining rights, since 2008, had caused ongoing community conflict resulting in the death of one community member seven years ago. “There is a real fear that the violence of 2008 will be repeated,” says Baleni.

The proposed mining area is some 22km long and 1.5km wide covering a total area of about 28000ha. She says about one-third of the 200 families living in the proposed mining area faced being displaced and having their customary way of life obliterated by the mining – a key reason for their opposition to it.

But she says other members of the community, who lived inland, supported the proposed mining activities because they hoped to get jobs or some other benefit. They did not face the prospect of losing their land, homes and way of life.

She says Chief Baleni was her senior and had initially been a staunch opponent of mining.

She alleges he changed his position after being appointed as a director of Xolco. She says none of the respondents had any interest in engaging the community in open discussions about the proposed mining. Instead, they were bent on giving an impression of public support and were polarising and dividing the community.

She says the application follows incidents in late April and earlier this month, where people had been threatened and harassed after the community blocked roads to prevent access to the dunes by members of the pro-mining faction.

She alleges firearms had later been drawn and discharged outside the homes of some of the protesters and threats had been made.

A 61-year-old pensioner who had fallen into a ditch as she ran for safety, had been severely assaulted.

She describes the response by the police as regrettably slow and ineffective. She says the pro-mining faction that entered the community armed and in convoys of vehicles, were clearly bent on violence and intimidation.

LRC director Sarah Sephton yesterday said the LRC had not yet received any correspondence from the respondents indicating that they would oppose the application.

The matter is set down to be argued on May 28.

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