Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has declared an 18-month moratorium on mining in Xolobeni, on the Eastern Cape Wild Coast.
Zwane’s intention was gazetted on 15 September 2016 in terms of section 49(1) of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, which allows the minister to prohibit or restrict prospecting or mining.
Zwane said he had taken the decision “having regard for the social and political climate at Xolobeni and reflecting on the significant social disintegration and highly volatile nature of the current situation in the area.”
Zwane’s decision contradicted his statement at a press conference earlier this year, when he said that if the people of Xolobeni did not want mining it was only because the government had failed to explain the benefits to them.
He said in the Gazette it was his intention to “declare an 18-month moratorium on the Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources SA (Pty) Ltd (TEM) application and the lodging of any further prospecting or mining applications in the area.”
TEM is the South African subsidiary of the listed Australian mining company Mining Commodities (MRC), which also has shares in a mining operation on the West Coast, north of Cape Town.
“The moratorium is relevant to the TEM application and the prohibition of any further lodging or processing of any mining or prospecting applications on the approved mine area for the next 18 months, or until the Minister is satisfied that the community conflict and unrest has been resolved and that the application can continue,” he said.
The Xolobeni community has been fighting against an application to mine titanium along a 22-km stretch of the sand dunes for more than a decade. The area has been hit by high levels of violence, which have been reported to police without any prosecutions as a result.
The battle line was clear between those who wanted the mine and a majority who vehemently opposed mining because it would take away their land and livelihoods and destroy the tourism potential in the area.
The violence in Xolobeni has divided the once happy families into toxic enemies. Those who are against mining have been subjected to gruesome brutality, which seem some fleeing their homes. In one case, a woman gave birth to a son while she hid in a stream from pro-ming attackers.
Lives have been lost in the Xolobeni battle. The latest was Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe, the chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, who was killed on 22 March by men posing as police, who arrived at his home in a car with blue lights mounted on its roof. He was gunned down in front of his son at his family home in Mzamba, Xolobeni.
In July TEM made an investment U-turn by announcing to the Australian Stock exchange that they would divest their shares in the proposed mining operation to a local empowerment partner in Xolobeni. This was not well received by anti-mining activists in the area, who said they would not celebrate the development because they feared the local firm would pursue the licence application.
The gazette further declares no further applications for prospecting or mining authorizations will be accepted in the area until such time the moratorium was lifted.
Mineral Resources department spokesperson Martin Madlala said he was unaware of the Gazette and insisted that the Department was in consultation with stakeholders including the communities in Xolobeni.