Xolobeni villagers are ‘tired of being abused’

The new chief executive officer of the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) was met with resistance over the planned N2 Wild Coast toll road during a meeting with the Xolobeni community, which is opposed to the development.

Skhumbuzo Macozoma visited the community at its head woman’s homestead in Umgungundlovu Great Place on Thursday in a bid to negotiate an amicable solution to the controversial toll road after his predecessor, Nazir Alli, failed to meet with the villagers.

Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) spokesperson Nonhle Mbuthuma, who attended the meeting in Xolobeni, said: “We are tired of being abused. First, they wanted to move us off our land because of mining. We fought against that. Now they are saying we must move our homes, graves and mealie fields for a road we did not ask for. We are going to fight that too.

“They have divided our community so badly that it’s not only ordinary people who find themselves on opposite sides, but even amaMpondo royalty – some want the mining and the road, but others are against this development.”

Macozoma listened to villagers’ concerns that the toll road was being built for the benefit of a proposed titanium mining operation that the community had vehemently opposed. Government eventually put the project on ice.

The Mbizana villages of Mpindweni, Mthentu, Sigidi, Mdatya and Xolobeni are opposed to the N2 Wild Coast toll road because they believe it is not meant for their upliftment, but will instead facilitate the mining of the red sand dunes in Xolobeni, which are rich in titanium.

They believe the road is meant to ship the minerals off to either the East London or Durban harbours. The 560km road will stretch between the Gonubie Interchange in East London and the Isipingo Interchange in Durban.

An 18-month moratorium on mining in Xolobeni was ordered by Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane in September after fierce opposition by villagers and months of violence, during which ACC chair Bazooka Radebe was killed. His supporters believe he was murdered because he led the Xolobeni community’s protests against the mining and the toll road.

Mbuthuma said the villagers told Macozoma that Sanral should suspend all operations or move the road 20km away from their villages, but he did not agree.

“When we raised these things with Sanral’s chief, he said he was going to consult with his bosses. But he is the chief executive. They think we are fools,” she said.

Mbuthuma said all that was left for them to do was to defend their land “with whatever means necessary”.

Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona said they viewed the meeting attended by Macozoma in Xolobeni as productive. While the community was very clear in their rejection of the project, the meeting helped him understand its concerns and perspective on the project.

“It is Sanral’s view that there is a misunderstanding and misinformation on various planned projects in the Wild Coast area and how they relate,” he said

“The planning and preparatory works to commence with construction activities remain on track. National Treasury has now confirmed the funding model for the greenfields road section and the procurement process for the megabridges is at an advanced stage,” he said.

Mona said work on the project would go ahead as planned unless government said otherwise, but Sanral remained optimistic that government would find a way to ensure that its interests and that of the Xolobeli people were aligned.

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