Threat to sue king as Xolobeni case rages on
Social worker says he will take legal action if Sigcau denigrates him again
Tempers over the Xolobeni mining campaign went up a notch on Thursday when South African human rights activist and social worker John Clarke threatened to sue AmaMpondo king Zanozuko Sigcau for defamation.
Clarke also said he would sue if the king prevented him from carrying out his professional work.
Clarke said he would sue if the king again said that he was inciting violence and misleading the people of Xolobeni in order to prevent mining.
He was speaking outside the Mbizana magistrate’s court where well-known South African civil rights lawyer and Xolobeni anti-mining group attorney Richard Spoor was being charged with inciting violence.
Charges were laid against Spoor by the police deputy provincial commissioner, Major-General Andre Swart, following chaos that erupted in Xolobeni during mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe’s meeting with the villagers in September 2018.
On Wednesday the king commented at a public meeting that Clarke was “one of the white people’’ who were dividing the people of Xolobeni.
The king was speaking in Xolobeni, where Mantashe announced on Wednesday that an independent referendum would be held for the community to decide if they wanted to allow the controversial mining project to proceed or not.
Clarke was at the meeting.
The king had angrily said: "The whole pandemonium is caused by people who are outsiders or foreigners in the land of my great ancestor Faku.”
Clarke said he was a social worker assisting the people of Xolobeni in exercising their human rights.
He said he was working with the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), the anti-mining lobby group, and he recognised Sigcau as a chief.
Clarke told the Dispatch that when he first heard the king speaking he initially laughed off the comments.
“But if Zanozuko says that again, I will sue him for defamation. If he feels that I am conducting myself unprofessionally he should simply report me to my professional body, the council for social workers.
“He should not undermine my job as a social worker providing needed community services,’’ said Clarke.
He said that the king should be uniting AmaMpondo rather than dividing them and taking sides.
Clarke vowed to continue working with the people of Xolobeni. “We never imposed ideas on the people of Xolobeni, but we advised them of their human rights,’’ he said.
At the meeting, Sigcau angrily told the crowd – some of whom were booing him while others cheered – that he was neither pro- nor anti-mining.
He said he wanted development for AmaMpondo.
“It does not matter how much you shout. This is the land of my great ancestor Faku. It is not the land of John Clarke and his group. This Amadiba community is a vast community. I do believe that mining, agriculture, and tourism can co-exist. Development is going to happen. We are not going to beg anyone for that. If the kingdom, government and community have a programme, it is going to happen,” said Sigcau.
Spoor is charged with common assault, disobeying a lawful instruction from a police officer and inciting public violence.
He is represented by respected Eastern Cape lawyer Prince Madikizela, who is based in Mbizana.
The little gallery was packed with about 30 members of the public, mostly ACC members led by its chair, Sibusiso Mqadi.
Mqadi said they would make representations to the NPA to have Spoor’s “spurious” charges withdrawn.
The case was postponed to March 28 for further investigation.
Addressing the ACC members outside court Spoor lashed out at Mantashe for coming to Xolobeni.
“Every time he comes here there is violence; people get injured,” he said.
“It [the referendum] is a very bad idea. It is a very foolish plan. It can cause more problems and create violence. We must find a way to stop this nonsense.
“A survey is not the job of the government but of a mining company.”
Spoor said that he met with Mantashe two weeks before the Wednesday meeting and advised him not to come.
Mqadi said that a man who spoke up at the Mantashe meeting had misrepresented the organisation.
“He was a hired individual and is not our member. He told lies that we are being misled by white people like Mr Clarke and Spoor. They never tell us what to do. We approached them for assistance. We asked them for assistance in legal matters, human rights issues, and also to assist us with media and marketing so that our plight can reach every corner in the world. Without their assistance our plight could not have been known worldwide,’’ she said.
Mqadi added that they did not recognise Sigcau as their king but paid allegiance to his aunt and arch-rival, Queen MaSobhuza Sigcau.