Xolobeni on the brink amid mining bid

BATTLEGROUND Mablasi Yalo (67) and her granddaughter, four-year-old Azola, walk along the red dunes in Xolobeni near Mbizana in the Eastern Cape. Picture: Leon Sadiki
BATTLEGROUND Mablasi Yalo (67) and her granddaughter, four-year-old Azola, walk along the red dunes in Xolobeni near Mbizana in the Eastern Cape. Picture: Leon Sadiki

Murder of Amadiba Crisis Committee chair leaves community in shock and fearing further violence as mining company continues its bid to dig dunes.

There are concerns that tension between a Wild Coast community and a company looking to mine titanium in the Xolobeni area could boil over even further if left unchecked.

This follows the brutal killing this week of anti-mining champion Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, who has been spearheading the decade-long battle against plans by Australian mining company Transworld Energy & Minerals Resources (TEM) to prospect and mine for titanium in the picturesque and environmentally sensitive dunes.

Rhadebe, who was the chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, an anti-mining lobby group, died in a hail of bullets on Tuesday night. His death is being called an assassination by Mzamo Dlamini, the committee’s deputy chairperson, and Nonhle Mbuthuma, the committee’s secretary.

Dlamini said: “Our beloved Bazooka made the ultimate sacrifice defending our ancestral land of Amadiba on the Wild Coast.

“He was murdered at about 7.30pm. The hit men came in a white VW Polo with a rotating blue lamp on the roof. Two men knocked on the door, saying they were the police. Mr Rhadebe was shot with eight bullets in the head. He died defending his young son, who witnessed the murder,” Dlamini said.

Rhadebe’s son and wife ended up in hospital as a result of the attack.

The killing comes amid escalating violence in the area, which the Amadiba Crisis Committee alleges is linked to TEM’s bid to mine Xolobeni.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) said the Xolobeni community was under attack by powerful capitalist interests in league with local thugs.

Numsa pledged its support to the people in Pondoland, who are standing up for their democratic right not to be bulldozed by international capitalists and local gangsters into accepting the violation of their environment without their consent.

Speaking to City Press this week, Mbuthuma, who has worked alongside Rhadebe, said the community was distraught and felt unsafe, even when the police were present.

“Rhadebe’s murder has made us even more determined to fight for our land. He said it in his own words while he was alive, that if they were to kill him, we must continue with the struggle.”

Legal Resources Centre lawyer Henk Smith, who, together with activist and human rights attorney Richard Spoor, has represented the community in its fight against titanium mining, said that he was shocked at the news of Rhadebe’s death, and that the tension in Xolobeni could escalate further amid death threats against those who have been opposing the plans to mine titanium.

Mbuthuma described the situation in Xolobeni as “very tense” and volatile.

Eastern Cape police spokesperson Lieutenant Khaya Tonjeni said: “The only comment that I can share with you with regards to the case is that the police have opened a case of murder and it is currently under investigation. No suspects have been arrested, but we are following leads and an arrest is imminent.”

Tonjeni confirmed that a shooting incident had been reported on Tuesday at Plangeni, Lurholweni township, Mbizana, at about 9.30pm.

Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane noted with concern the escalating tensions in Xolobeni over a mining rights application in the area.

“The minister appeals for calm, and for all stakeholders to use dialogue and due process in resolving their differences. Minister Zwane has further called for the community to allow law enforcement agencies to investigate the recent killing of the chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, and bring the perpetrators to book,” the department said.

“The minister extends his condolences to the family and friends of Mr Sikhosiphi Rhadebe. The mining rights application is still pending, with the applicant still conducting consultations and public participation, in line with the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and the National Environmental Management Act.”

The escalating tension between opposing factions in the community was starkly evident in January, when a village headwoman was forced to flee after attempts on her life in December. There were also clashes in Xolobeni in December that led to three people being injured and four arrested.

On one side are villagers who already work for the mining company, and support it because it will bring jobs, infrastructure and business opportunities.

On the other are those who feel that mining will wreck their environment and force their ancestors’ graves to be moved. They prefer tourism as an income option.

ASX-listed mining company Mineral Commodities chairperson Mark Caruso, when contacted by Fin24, said: “I am not in a position to comment with any authority as I am uninformed of any of the facts surrounding this incident ... It is tragic that a man has lost his life, regardless of the circumstances.

“The company is in no way implicated in any form whatsoever in this incident. Statements to the contrary are simply unfounded. This company will not engage in any activity that incites violence,” Caruso said.

TEM submitted a mining rights application to the department of mineral resources in March last year.

Rhadebe’s killing comes after the community blocked Mineral Commodities from drilling in the area.

The SA Chamber of Mines reacted with “alarm” to the news of Rhadebe’s killing and noted that he had been a leader of a campaign to prevent the granting of mining rights to TEM.

Chamber spokesperson Charmane Russell said that although mining rights applications could result in disputes between different interest groups, “nothing can justify violence and murder”, and she called on police to bring those involved to book “as soon as possible”.

“We also call on the management of TEM and their local partners to engage with the different community groupings in the area in the spirit of peace and respect. We trust the department of mineral resources will adjudicate in this matter with due regard for the legitimate interests of all concerned,”
said Russell.

The Chamber of Mines, of which TEM is not a member, told City Press that the alleged murder cast a dark shadow over the rights applications process.


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