Will a referendum solve the Xolobeni-N2 toll road impasse?

Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle
Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle

Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle says government is looking into making development in Xolobeni sustainable, including mining, but it should have the buy-in of all the members of the community.

Speaking to City Press last week, Masualle said mining and tourism, as well as protecting the environment can coexist in a sustainable way.

“Firstly, I have to deal with principle issues regarding mining. The view we took as provincial government is that where there are prospects for a thriving mining operation in the province we would be supportive of that.

Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle

“But certainly we would not go for it at all costs if it is going to be harmful to the environment. So the laws must be observed and there must be environmental sustainability, but that sustainability should be kept alongside securing development. Where we can develop through exploring mining in the province, let that be done,” said the premier.

Masualle was reacting to a judgment in the Pretoria High Court last month, where the Amadiba Crisis Committee [ACC], an anti-mining lobby group in Xolobeni, which is against the proposed titanium mining of the red dunes in Mbizana’s Coastal Amadiba areawon a remarkable court battle against the state. The judgment effectively gave the community the right to reject mining in their area.

Masualle said they did not see this as a loss. “Absolutely not. It merely underwrites the importance of the community’s voice being heard,” he said.

Judge Annali Basson said the mineral resources minister must first obtain consent from the community before granting any mining rights to Australian company Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources, which intends to start mining operations in the village.

The ACC launched a court battle against the department of mineral resources and TEM over mining rights in Xolobeni early this year and have since been buoyed by the judgment.

Masualle, however, in a veiled attack, criticised the ACC for drowning out the voices of those that want mining in the area.

“In Xolobeni specifically, we do find a bit of discomfort, particularly where there would be those in the community who block other views from being heard.

“I think we would be supportive of community views being taken into account without anyone being intimidated in any way, so that we can have the opportunity to dialogue properly about the opportunities and risks associated with this and the benefits associated with it, all this being done where everyone’s view is heard.

“We do recognise the judgment that has been made, that all development of that nature must have support of the community,” he said.

Masualle accused the ACC of wanting to usurp the view of the entire Xolobeni community.

“It’s one thing to have a lobby group that makes as if it is representative of the community.

“A lobby group is a lobby group. We must have the community and the community is inclusive of the lobby group. But what has been happening is lobby groups make themselves the ultimate authority on behalf of the community and we think that there is a problem with that,” he said.

Asked if he was referring to the ACC which has been at the forefront of fighting against mining in Xolobeni for over a decade, Masualle said: “ I am just saying any lobby group, in this instance we have a lobby group that has expressed itself in that way. It should be that, the voice of the community is heard and the voice of the community extends beyond the lobby group.”

“We regard the N2 Wild Coast toll road and Xolobeni mining as husband and wife. They go together, that is why we have resorted to courts.

Meanwhile, Oscar Mabuyane, the Eastern Cape MEC for finance, economic development, environmental affairs and tourism, has reportedly called for a referendum in Xolobeni to break the impasse that has divided the community between those who are pro-mining and anti mining.

Masualle said although this was a not a view he was aware of, it was certainly not a government position.

“I haven’t heard about [the call for a referendum]... But I don’t think we have made that determination as government,” he said.

Last month, The Citizen reported that when answering questions after his midterm budget speech in the Bhisho Legislature, Mabuyane, who is also the provincial chairperson of the ANC and is likely to be the next premier, called for a referendum in Xolobeni.

“We cannot say no to mining in our province and then work in the mines in other provinces while living with financial resources that could have made a difference here.

“The people of Xolobeni must not be lobbied and be intimidated to oppose the mining. They must be allowed an opportunity to decide if they want mining or not through a referendum.

“The people of Xolobeni have been misled by others who do not live there and have been promising to develop that area for tourism for the past 20 years. We are saying that tourism and mining can coexist if people of that area can agree. Mining will bring job opportunities, investment, social infrastructure and other benefits,” Mabuyane was quoted as saying.

Neither Mabuyane nor his spokesperson, Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, could be reached for comment.

Masualle was, however, upbeat about the N2 Wild Coast toll road, saying it was moving ahead despite opposition by communities who felt it was all about facilitating mining in the area to ensure it was easy to transport raw material to a smelter plant in East London.

In the Pretoria High Court last week, some communities in Mbizana locked horns with the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) about the N2 toll road project, which plans to link and shorten the travel time between East London and Durban. The road would also pass through Amadiba coastal communities, some of which are opposed to mining.

A statement released by the ACC on Monday, December 3, read: “Today the court case starts in the Pretoria High Court against Sanral’s planned route for the N2 Wild Coast toll road. It is scheduled for three days before the honourable Justice Pretorius.

“In the case, we argue that public participation meetings were tick-box exercises designed to minimise dissent, being in complete breach of our own customary law on consultation...

“The toll road would cut our community straight down the middle as it makes mining in Xolobeni financially feasible.”

Judgment was reserved and will be handed down in February next year.

Read: 'Sanral's false promises': Protesters block construction of R1.6bn bridge

Masualle denied that mining in Xolobeni and the N2 Wild Coast toll road were linked.

“I don’t know why we link things that are not linked. The N2 road is one developmentAnd for what I know there were those that blocked the contractor from doing the work and we have been working to make sure that such is attended. I have got a report recently and my MEC for transport was there [in Mbizana] and the whole matter since been clarified and the contractor would be going back to site. We expect work to continue,” Masualle said.

ACC spokesperson Nonhle Mbuthuma said the premier should properly read the judgment on mining before commenting.

“The judgment says clearly that the people of Xolobeni have a right to say no and they are the ones who should consent to mining and how...

“If they are not happy with judgment they should appeal and not cause a scene because this is dividing the community.

“Instead of appealing the judgment, they now want to do consultation. We are saying we have passed that stage. The premier must read the judgment otherwise he is going to mislead the public,” said Mbuthuma.

“The judgment says clearly that the people of Xolobeni have a right to say no and they are the ones who should consent to mining and how...

Commenting on the issue of the toll road and views of the premier that it was not linked to mining, Mbuthuma said this was not true. She said the purpose of building the highway close to the proposed mining area was to support the project to transport raw materials to either East London or Richards Bay.

“We regard the N2 Wild Coast toll road and Xolobeni mining as husband and wife. They go together, that is why we have resorted to courts.

“We are not completely against the N2, but we are saying it must move away from the coastal Amadiba areas, where the mining is proposed.

“But they are forcing it to be close and 3km away from the coast. If the road is for us as communities why can’t they listen to us. The road is not connected to any of the existing towns and it’s clear that it is connected to the mining. We all know you cannot mine in Xolobeni without a proper road,” she said.

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