JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Activist group Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC) has welcomed a notice gazetted by Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane which blocks any mining or prospecting applications on the Xolobeni mine area, in Bizana, in the Eastern Cape, for the next 18 months, “or until the Minister is satisfied that the community conflict and unrest has been resolved”.
SWC, however, said it was concerned that the moratorium may be about more than ostensibly wishing to ensure the wellbeing of the affected communities.
The moratorium includes a halt on processing the existing application of Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources (TEM).
Zwane warned of a moratorium, following an “outreach meeting” at Xolobeni on July 19, which ended in chaos after Mineral Resources Deputy Minister Godfrey Oliphant and the then Police Deputy Minister Maggie Sotyu failed to win the confidence of the large majority of the Amadiba community.
After the August 2016 local government elections, Zwane invited interested and affected parties to comment on his intention to declare an 18-month moratorium. A number of civil society organisations, including the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), SWC, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute and others, duly did so.
“It has taken nine months for Minister Zwane to finally get around to acting on his intention. We are cautioning against this moratorium being regarded as a long-term victory.
“We cannot ignore the fact that this moratorium comes at a time when the South African National Roads Agency has already started preparations for constructing two massive bridges for the N2 toll road, a road that would serve the proposed mine well. We also cannot trust the mining company TEM, which may see advantage in the moratorium,” the SWC said.
While the moratorium is in place, independent social specialists will be called on to investigate the causes of conflict between pro- and anti-mining groups and to identify possible solutions.
SWC said that while this task may, on paper, be useful, there was a wealth of existing research and reports on this issue from the last decade, much of which has already been submitted to the authorities. “What new information such a specialist study would uncover is unclear,” it noted.
Further, community members have recently prevented social studies from taking place as part of the environmental-impact-assessment process, "as such studies for too long now have been associated with attempts to mine", and “members do not see the point of additional specialist studies when they have been making their position on the mining very clear for years – ‘no mining on our land’”.
ACC’s Nonhle Mbuthuma added that officials from the Eastern Cape Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) last year visited Komkulu to speak to the community. “So they already know. This moratorium is just a way for them to [buy] time to strategise how to get the mining through at Xolobeni.”
She added that, if the DMR was “genuine” about listening to the concerns of the community over the last decade and taking the research that has already been conducted into account, it would not be calling for such new research, and perhaps would even have put an end to any attempt to allow mining at Xolobeni.
The SWC added that the recent controversial unveiling of the Mining Charter 3 gives further reason for concern, as it is essentially aimed at intensifying mining in the country and calls for “sustainable growth and development” instead of using the language of the Constitution which includes in Section 24 “ecologically sustainable development” and “justifiable social and economic development”.
There are robust alternatives to mining for development at Xolobeni that the communities have made clear over a number of years and in which, guided by these desires, government action can play a positive role in supporting.