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Murder deepens the mining nightmare for rural communities

24 Mar 2016 - 12:00
Pondoland
Pondoland

By Mbhekiseni Mavuso & Brendan Boyle

“Bazooka” to his friends and Sikhosiphi Rhadebe to the mining investors he had opposed for a decade, the chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, who was murdered outside his own front door on Tuesday evening, was just the latest casualty in a growing number of community activists viciously targeted for their views.

Rhadebe was shot at least five times after he answered the door to people who announced themselves as police while a blue light flashed from the roof of their car. His wife and child were inside their home when he died.

Police have confirmed that they are investigating a charge of murder. Australia’s Mineral Commodities Limited(MRC), whose insistence on overcoming local resistance to their mining plans for Rhadebe’s Wild Coast home, has yet to comment on his execution-style killing.

Rhadebe had for years led local opposition to MRC’s plan to mine the dunes around his home for titanium. While he and other activists insist that mining would permanently destroy their lives and lifestyle, a small group of locals argue for the mine to get the go-ahead in the apparent hope that they, and perhaps others, might be enriched in the process.

Their story is told in the multi award-winning documentary The Shore Break and in acres of newsprint. ThisMail&Guardian report tells their story in detail.

Tension has been rising for months in the area. Just two weeks ago, shots were fired into the home of another member of the Amadiba Crisis Committee soon after a protest against the proposed mine.

Similar acts of intimidation have been reported in North West, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal this year. Cars and trucks have been burned in KwaZulu-Natal, protesters including women have been wounded by police rubber bullets in Limpopo. In North West, one activist has had his home vandalised, others have been assaulted. Threats of death are frequent.

In the hills near Melmoth, KwaZulu-Natal, veteran anti-mining activist Mbhekiseni Mavuso wrote the following account on his mobile phone while hiding out in a rural area after threats were relayed to him on Monday and Tuesday.

Mavuso is a member of the Makhasaneni Committee, which seeks to force Indian mining company Jindal to consult with community members and not just traditional leaders about their plan to rip open the green hills in search of iron.

This is Mavuso’s story:

We who live in the hills of Makhasaneni woke up one morning in mid-2011 to hear and see big machines arriving to drill in our fields, backyards, graveyards, grazing land, wetlands and rivers. It was the beginning of a nightmare that goes on to this day.

We approached a traditional leader who is a headman in our village to ask if he knew anything about this horrible operation. He said he knew nothing. We managed eventually to stop those machines and called for a mass meeting at which Inkosi S T Zulu was invited to tell us whether he had knowledge of these land disturbers.

He admitted that he did, and that he had agreed to it, but he said he was sorry and he promised to tear up all the signed documents related to prospecting and access to our land. In that meeting, Inkosi Zulu suggested that the community should elect four people to come to his office to witness the destruction of the agreements.

The community did as he suggested and delegated four members to witness documents being torn up, but that never materialised. Instead, when they got there, Inkosi Zulu accused them of trying to assassinate him at Makhasaneni.

Instead of seeing Inkosi destroy the agreement that had given away our land, our Induna advised us to apologise to Inkosi Zulu. We even gave him a sheep so as to make peace with him. He came on 26 August 2012 to accept our apology. He came with his brothers (Royal Family members) and with Directors of the Jindal mining company and its BEE partner Sungu Sungu.

We were told that the mining company would resume its operations. We were also told that we had no rights on the land and that we should not disturb the work. The visitors went further to say we must withdraw the restitution claim lodged with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in 1998 and allow the Royal Family to take it over.

We had no choice but to allow the company to operate.

As Makhasaneni residents, we are against the mine because we were not consulted. So we established a committee to oppose the mine. We drafted some guidelines to control mine operations and activities and got the mine to sign before resuming its operations. We called it an MOU and it was signed on 22 September 2012. The company resumed its operations on 1 November 2012.

The company breached all the guidelines in that MOU. Our livestock died – we assume because of the chemicals being used; workers were not paid on time; the mine brought workers from other provinces; and they drilled without getting our consent.

We stopped them again on 5 March 2013 and, so far, they have been unable to resume. We used those guidelines to frustrate them.

But since we stopped the company from mining, we have been intimidated. We have had death threats from people claiming to represent the company and from people claiming to be members of the Royal Family.

Some of us have survived attacks by hired hitmen. In many meetings we are accused of opposing development and ANC-led government. We have religiously reported all these incidents to the police and other structures, but we did not get assistance. The chairperson of the Provincial House of Traditional leaders promised at one stage to intervene, but again nothing came of it.

Now let me talk about recent developments:

On 3 March this year, Induna MK Dludlu was summoned to appear before a representative of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the Royal Committee and the Traditional Council. We advised Induna Dludlu not to attend. They said he had boycotted a boundary demarcation meeting and taken land under his authority and divided it among Indunas who are in favour of the mine.

Three days later, on 6 March 2016, Inkosi Zulu phoned me to tell me that there is a plot to demote and dismiss Induna Dludlu. Inkosi Zulu said he was not a part of it, but his brothers were.

Then, on 12 March I narrowly escaped attack by two people I recognised as members of the Entembeni Royal Family. Fortunately, I became suspicious when I saw these men monitoring the taxi I was travelling in. I jumped out before it got full and hired a private car to quickly take me home while my wife stayed in that taxi. They did not notice me getting in that private car. When they came to get me they realised I was no longer there.

On that same day Sthembiso Joel Dubazane managed to escape an attempted ambush when two men driving a Colt van with registration number NES 14XX tried to force him off the road from Empangeni to Melmoth. He reported it to the Melmoth police, who said they could not help him.

On 19 March 2016, Induna Dludlu was called to a meeting with officials from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and with an attorney helping with his restitution claim. He attended the meeting with two members of Makhasaneni Committee, John Simelane and Sipho Dludla. In that meeting, our Induna was told to choose between withdrawing a restitution claim or being killed with the entire committee.

We know the identity of the person who made the threat. He writes for a local newspaper. The lawyers advised our people not to speak. Induna Dludlu was accused of conspiring to claim the chieftaincy. The lawyers present managed to mediate when things got very heated, but our people were told they would suffer the same fate as other people, whom they named, who have died in strange circumstances and who have seen their homes burned to the ground.

There was a threat to attack Induna Dludlu’s delegation that very night. There was even an argument about who would get to kill Induna Dludlu, with one of the Royal Family brothers demanding that he should have that right.

A veteran KwaZulu-Natal activist helped me to get the police to patrol the area throughout the whole night. We think they agreed because she is of a difference race to us.

Induna Dludlu and two other members who were threatened were advised to go to the police station and lay a charge or apply for a protection order. They went on Tuesday this week. After being made to wait for three hours, they were attended to and a case was opened, though they were not given a case number.

It is true that we oppose what others see as development, but we do so because we have not been properly consulted on plans for our region. Those in favour of mining, who probably stand to benefit personally if it goes ahead, claim for themselves the sole right to take decisions about our own development. When we oppose their wishes we are called “anti-development” and opponents of programs of the democratic government. We are called “anti-democracy”.

We are not against development, but the arbitrary decisions imposed on us mean that we are victims, not beneficiaries of development. And now, under laws passed since 1994, we have graduated also to being “victims of democracy”.

(Image courtesy of The Shore Break – Creative Commons licence not applicable; Image not for reuse)