South Africa’s Minerals and Energy Minister, Buyelwa Sonjica, will make the journey to Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape on Friday, to meet with community leaders, local government, and black economic-empowerment (BEE) partners of Australia-listed Mineral Commodities (MRC), which plans to mine heavy minerals along a stretch of the Wild Coast.
Sonjica would visit the site and hold meetings with local community members. There would be no representatives from MRC or the company’s South African subsidiary Transworld Energy & Minerals at the site on Friday.
Last week, the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) granted the MRC the right to mine the Kwanyana block in the Xolobeni Mineral Sands project, which represents about 30% of the original area applied for. Documents, including the licence and the environmental management plan, would be signed on October 31.
The granting of the mining licence has been met with fierce resistance, as many felt that ecotourism in the area could bring more benefits to locals, and that community members had been sidelined in the decision-making process.
However, DME spokesperson Bheki Khumalo told Mining Weekly Online that the department felt that all due processes had been followed for the granting of a mining licence for the 30% of the area, and that “government carefully weighed all the options”.
The department also stated that it had taken into consideration the issues raised by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism before it awarded the mining licence to MRC.
Khumalo said that the DME was of the view that the mining company had held the necessary community consultations, and had satisfactory BEE structures and social and labour plans, as well as sufficient environmental management plans in place to mine that area.
As far as the DME was concerned, the granting of the licence was a “done deal”, although the Minister was open to hear the views of all concerned.
When questioned regarding the granting of the Xolobeni licence by the DME, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (Deat) spokesperson Mava Scott stated that “all enquiries regarding this decision must be forwarded to the DME. Like the rest of the stakeholders, Deat is studying the decision and we will comment at an appropriate time”.
MRC South Africa GM John Barnes also told Mining Weekly Online that “MRC has decided not to discuss anything further about the project at this stage,” and said that the DME should be contacted for further information regarding the project.
With regard to the remaining 70% of the Xolobeni project, which would be held under a prospecting right valid until 2010, Khumalo said the DME could not tell if and when the rights for those blocks would be granted, as MRC still had to meet certain obligations.
He also noted that the mining licence did not include the construction of a smelter to locally beneficiate the ore mined. This was initially put forward as part of the Xolobeni mining project, which would create a significant number of jobs.
The Kwanyana block contains some 139-million tons of heavy titanium-producing minerals, including ilmenite, zircon, leucoxene, and rutile. Of the four blocks making up the Xolobeni project area, the Kwanyana block had the largest measured resource.