Headman who opposed mining bid dies 'under mysterious circumstances'

2015-04-16 16:52


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Umtata - Suspicions of foul play are running rife among the communities that would be affected by a titanium mining project along the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, after the sudden death of one of their local headmen. 

Mtanjelwa ‘Bhalasheleni’ Mpotomela Mthwa, 80, a headman from the region, was an outspoken opponent of bids to obtain mining rights to mine the dunes in the Xolobeni region of the Eastern Cape. The bids were submitted by Perth-based mining entrepreneur Mark Caruso’s Mineral Resource Commodities (MRC), and South African subsidiary Transworld Energy Mineral Resources (TEM).

TEM submitted a new bid for the rights with the Department of Mineral Resources last month, despite their first two bids being unsuccessful, and Mthwa was expected to be strong opponent to their bid.

However, Mthwa fell ill the on day a public participation meeting was supposed to take place and died shortly afterwards. Now some members of the community believe that foul play was involved.

The renewed bid has also sparked anger among some of the people of the Xolobeni region, who claimed that nothing had changed since the previous bids, and could not understand why a new bid was being considered.

'He got sick very quickly'

Amadiba Crisis Committee spokesperson, Mzamo Dlamini, said: "As part of the new scoping report that is being done, a public participation forum meeting was to take place at the Amadiba Tribal Authority on Thursday afternoon last week [April 9], with Mthwa expected to be one of the vocal opponents against the bid, but shortly before the meeting, the usually boisterous man took ill and was unable to attend.

"Mthwa was rushed to a nearby clinic on Thursday, but never recovered. He died shortly after 15:00 on Saturday afternoon [April 11].

“He got sick very quickly, in the morning he couldn’t speak and had to be rushed to the clinic,” said Dlamini.

The Amadiba Crisis Committee is a non-profit-organisation that was established in 2007 to represent those community members opposed to the original mining rights bid.

Dlamini said the community believed Mthwa’s death was a result of foul play, with many accusing those who are for the Xolobeni mining project of having poisoned him.

“We have been warned in the past that those opposed to the bid would be targeted, we have been threatened and told that members of the Crisis Committee will be poisoned,” said Dlamini.

Dlamini said, while foul play was suspected, no case had been opened with the police yet.

“We are waiting for the doctors to finalise the post mortem and come back with a cause of death,” he said.

Public Participation Meeting disrupted

Pieter Badenhorst, who was appointed by TEM to handle the new mining rights bid process – as the regulations had changed last year, requiring any mining rights application, as well as the coinciding Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) having to be conducted under the National Environmental Management Act – confirmed that the meeting at the Amadiba Tribal Authority last week Thursday had been disrupted.

Badenhorst said the first step in the bid process was to engage with various stakeholders before submitting a Scoping Report, which would highlight areas of concern that would need to be addressed through the EIA.

“There were five public participation meetings held last week, including the meeting at the Amadiba Tribal Authority,” he said.

Badenhorst said the other meetings had run smoothly, with the majority of the 800 plus people who had attended in favour of the mining application, with the exception of the Amadiba meeting.

“The meeting at the Amadiba Tribal Authority was organised through the Senior Chief of the region, Lunga Baleni, in accordance with custom,” he said.

Badenhorst said he had explained the reasons for the meeting, assisted by a translator, but at the mention of the word "mining", the meeting had immediately turned hostile.

He said the community had not wanted to sign the register and had refused to take documents to be registered on the Interested and Affected Parties database, which was to be used to keep people informed of the progress of the application.

Community activist, John Clarke, who was at the meeting, said at one point during the meeting a man had threatened Badenhorst and chief Baleni with a knobkierie. He said Badenhorst and Baleni’s vehicles had been pelted with ripe guavas and maize cobs when they drove off.

Badenhorst said he did not recall guavas being thrown at the vehicles, but confirmed that they had decided to end the meeting and leave the area due to safety concerns.
Read more on:    eastern cape  |  environment  |  mining

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