Mantashe vs the Amadiba

2019-03-13 06:01

THE Amadiba people of Xolobeni are going though a nightmare of seeing their heritage being threatened by the extractive clutches of an Australian mining company, MCR.

Their struggle to protect their heritage is one that all citizens should support to protect our collective heritage and ecosystems.

The Constitutional Court on October 28, 2018, introduced its judgment in favour of the first applicant, Maledu, on behalf of the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela, by quoting Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth: “For a colonised people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all dignity.”

The Xolobeni community successfully defended themselves against an apartheid government that wanted to impose a “betterment programme” under the then Bantustan system. The development model being imposed on them again in the name of job creation, is at variance with the rich traditions and customs that have enabled the Amadiba to live in harmony with nature over many generations.

Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe seems prepared to side-step a high court judgment that reaffirmed the rights of the Amadiba over their land on the basis that he suspects that “within the next 10 years the right to issue licences is systematically shifting from government to communities, and if we do that there will be no mining.”

Was the struggle for freedom not to promote decision-making by communities such as the Xolobeni community? It seems that Mantashe is not paying sufficient attention to the core principles of constitutional democracy that put citizens at the centre of shaping their futures, with government officials as the servants of the people, not their masters.

The minister also seems to be interpreting the mandate of his department too narrowly in his eagerness to do his job. The mandate of the Department of Mineral Resources, according to its own website, is: “To promote and regulate the minerals and mining for transformation, growth, development and to ensure that all South Africans benefit from the country’s mineral wealth.”

One would have thought that Mantashe, as a former migrant worker in the industry, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, former chair of the SACP, former ANC secretary general, and now chair of the ANC, which styles itself as the leader of society, would demonstrate greater empathy for courageous communities such as the Amadiba, instead of resenting their determination to assert their rights.

The Xolobeni community is sadly not alone in being betrayed by post-apartheid political leaders. Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the former public protector, produced a report in 2016 on the missing funds (estimated to be R610 million) from an escrow D-Account, belonging to the Bapo Ba Mogale community in North West. Both provincial and national government officials were implicated in turning a blind eye to the neglect of good governance that led to the misuse of these resources. There is yet to be redress for this betrayal.

An estimated 18 to 20 million rural people are vulnerable to the abuse of power by traditional leaders and local, provincial and national government officials who undermine their traditional land ownership recognised under the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act (IPILRA) of 1996. The cruel irony is that the very ANC government that enacted IPILRA is undermining it. In the past few weeks, several court judgments have come to the aid of betrayed communities, including those of the Ingonyama Trust in KZN.

These cases make a mockery of the pronouncements of the ANC that it is determined to restore land to its real owners. Amending Section 25 of the Constitution to effect land restitution without compensation is a distraction from the core problem — the lack of political will by the ANC government to implement land reform efficiently.

The impunity when it comes to corruption and the criminal neglect of rural communities by public officials in all provinces are a crying shame.

Mantashe’s legitimate concern about creating jobs through promoting new mining opportunities is misplaced. The titanium mine in Xolobeni would only be viable for 17 years, at the expense of the permanent destruction of the irreplaceable and beautiful dunes of the Wild Coast. The impact of such destruction in the face of the reality of global warming would lead to rising sea levels and could prove catastrophic for poor coastal communities.

Alternative development models supporting organic carbon-based agriculture indigenous to this community would be more appropriate. Investment by the government in building proper infrastructure including roads, water and sanitation systems, basic education and health service facilities, would create sustainable jobs and secure livelihoods in perpetuity. Ecotourism, livestock farming and food production would make for a thriving and ecologically sound environment.

In addition, enforcing social and labour plans as well as land rehabilitation by mining companies could create thousands of jobs for young people on the Witwatersrand to address the ecological disasters that are looming.

Acid mine drainage is hollowing out the underbelly of Johannesburg, while the mine dunes dotting the landscape are undermining the health of thousands of poor communities living on the periphery of Johannesburg city. Successive governments have neglected their regulatory responsibilities to date.

Our government is a signatory to the UN Intergovernmental Climate Change Agreement in Paris in 2015. We are obligated to meet our commitments to contribute to the sustainability of ecosystems and to enhance harmony with nature. The Wild Coast is one of the treasures of our natural heritage in Africa.

The ultimate irony is that the Australian mining company, MCR, which is putting pressure on the Xolobeni community to allow it to destroy their ecosystem, has already done damage to the Matzikama local municipality in the Western Cape where it breached its legal boundaries, leading to the collapse of a 17 metre cliff! Our regulators have yet to hold MCR accountable.

In a landmark case in February in Australia, chief judge Brian Preston of the NSW Land and Environment Court refused to approve a new coal mine because of its impact on climate change, saying: “the mine proposal was in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Mantashe should accept that the proposal to mine the Xolobeni Wild Coast dunes is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

• Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.

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