Mining tension on Wild Coast

2008-04-19 00:00

XOLOBENI — Tensions are running high between Wild Coast communities and the mining company that has its eye on the titanium-rich sand dunes in the Xolobeni area.

Stakeholders have been waiting anxiously since January to hear whether Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica will give these mining activities the green light.

Meanwhile, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has been asked to investigate intimidation and illegal practices alleged to have taken place during the impact study.

The ministers of Minerals and Energy and Environment and Land Affairs have been summonsed to appear before the SAHRC on Tuesday after they “neglected to respond to the commission’s inquiries about the alleged violation of human rights of residents that would be affected by the mining”, said SAHRC CEO Tseliso Thipanyane.

A committee representing the Xolobeni community has laid a charge with the SAHRC in which it claims that stakeholders were not consulted during the environmental impact study as required by law.

There has been division in the community ever since the proposals for mining activities along the Wild Coast were first submitted.

Environmentalists and ecotourism organisations have been opposed to the plans of the Australian mining group, Mineral Commodities, for several years.

Fears exist that the adverse environmental impact of a sand mine would scupper all ecotourism activities that have been started there to uplift the community.

“An ecotourism project started along the Wild Coast in 1998 and funded by the European Union has apparently already failed as a result of this division in the community and alleged intimidation by people who support the mine,” Thipanyane said.

Sinegugu Zukulu, a spokesperson for the Amadiba Crisis Committee, said a long list of cases of intimidation will be presented during the SAHRC hearing.

“The mining company has even gone as far as withdrawing its sponsorships of desperately poor primary schools after teachers did not show up at meetings of mining supporters,” said Zukulu. “I used to play in this wonderful, pristine and ecologically rich environment as a child.

“Now they want to destroy everything by digging up the dunes for minerals. The people are prepared to fight right up to the highest court. to prevent that from happening.”

Mineral Commodities employees reportedly turned up armed at public meetings about the impact study.

John Barnes, CEO of Mineral Commodities’ South African offices, would not comment on the hearing.

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