A voice from the grave accuses Sandile Nogxina, a former director-general and now advisor to the mining minister, of betraying a community.
Some stories intersect at many levels.
Such is the saga of Xolobeni, the unique coastal region across the Eastern Cape border from the town of Port Edward, southern KwaZulu-Natal.
It is a story about the struggle between mining and conservation, between local autonomy and the determination of distant politicians and bureaucrats that they know better – that stripping the dunes at Xolobeni for heavy minerals will mean “development”, which justifies ignoring local pleas for a gentler path based on agriculture and tourism.
It is about the corrosive effects a potentially valuable resource can bring to a small and fragile community and ecosystem.
It is about the impact an organised community, committed local leadership and activists from further afield can make against the relentless pressure of a state allied with capital – for more than a decade they have resisted bids to grant a mining license at Xolobeni.
It is about the costs and casualties of that struggle – and the intersection of the lives of two men, one now dead, one very much alive: Xolobeni activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe and minerals department veteran Adv Sandile Nogxina.
The big man and the small man
The collision between Bazooka and Nogxina – between competing values and masculinities, between rural guile and urban sophistication – is emblematic of this story.
It also shows how buried history can return with resurrected potency.
Bazooka was a big man in a rural pond, but he had pulled himself up by his bootstraps and enjoyed respect and support in the local community.
Born in 1964, he had gone to work on a mine in Johannesburg – like many young Mpondo men before and since.
According to a report by GroundUp, Bazooka opened a spaza shop with money he had saved, purchasing his first minibus taxi a few years later.
At the time of his murder in March 2016 he owned a fleet of taxis and a workshop, and was an influential member of the Mzamba Taxi Owners’ Association, which plies a route between Bizana, in the Eastern Cape and Port Shepstone, in KwaZulu-Natal.
He was also chair of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, which has led opposition to mining at Xolobeni, and he headed the Amadiba Coastal Community Development Association (Accoda) a community trust which owns the Mtentu River lodge.
The taxi industry is a hard business and Bazooka, an imposing and confident man, was clearly no pushover – but he was nervous of Nogxina.
Nogxina, four years older than Bazooka, is small and precise, but has risen to great heights on the national stage.
He comes from KwaMzizi-Redoubt, about 30km inland from the proposed mining area on the coast, where his grandfather had moved from Port Edward.
Nogxina matriculated in 1976, then joined the ANC in 1977 and its military arm Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) three years later. He worked as an underground operative in South Africa in the 1980s while gaining a law degree Fort Hare in 1984 and then worked as a public prosecutor in the Transkei.
In 1987 he was appointed legal adviser for the ANC in exile in Lusaka and in 1988 he was sent for specialized training in military intelligence in Moscow.
But by the early 90s he was being prepared for government (and perhaps for big capital), learning about “Negotiating contracts and Co-Financing” and “Macro-Economics and Redistribution” courtesy of the World Bank.
He became a giant of the post-Apartheid civil service, leading the creation of the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and later, as director general in the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME), he was the driving force behind the mining charter and the Mining and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), which placed mineral rights in the custodianship and control of the state.
There were more ambiguous moments. On at least two occasions ANC interests appeared to cloud decision-making at the DME under him – one, the case of Sandi Majali and the Iraq oil-for-food scandal and two, the allocation of Kalahari manganese rights, involving Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and the ANC investment company, Chancellor House.
But it was an upstart junior miner, led by an abrasive Australian, that placed Nogxina and Bazooka on a collision course.
Mark Caruso comes across as a foul-mouthed Heathcliff with an amateur interest in social Darwinism.
(At least he does here, in this interaction with the man he is suing for millions of rands, social worker and activist John Clarke. We put questions to Caruso about this and other issues here. A taste: “Survival of the fucking species mate. It’s all there. Is there anything else you need to talk to me about John, because I gotta go, cause I wanna go and get drunk after speaking to you.”)
Caruso’s father built up an earth-moving business in Western Australia and the family moved into construction and mining, the latter particularly via Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), which is listed on the Australian stock exchange.
Mark, born in 1962, arrived on the South African mining scene in around 2001, when he and his elder brother Joseph established MRC Resources, the South African entity that controls two local prospects, the Tormin mineral sands project on the West Coast, where mining operations began controversially in 2014, and the Xolobeni project.
MRC Resources is pursuing Xolobeni via a 56% share of Transworld Energy and Minerals Resources, which plans to mine a 22 km long and 1.5 km wide stretch of the Xolobeni coastline, mainly for titanium-related minerals such as ilmenite, which is used as a white pigment, and zircon, used in ceramics.
The proposed mine encroaches on five villages and some 200 households of the Amadiba area known as Umgungundlovu.
In its response to questions, MRC said there had been significant misinformation in the media, “who have generally failed to present a balanced position on Xolobeni”.
“The Company does not wish to engage any further and heighten the existing situation between the respective pro- and anti-mining interested and affected stakeholders…
“In regards to allegations by Mr Clarke and recorded conversations, the alleged conversation occurred in 2011. We have no comment as the matter is before the Court save other than to say Mr Clarke has clearly allegedly clandestinely recorded the conversations without consent…
“The Company’s closing statement is that it believes that mining can co-exist with the environment.
Echoing the DME’s stance that mining is the only path to development, MRC said: “The championing by anti-mining lobbyists fails to recognise the abhorrent poverty and lack of basic life services available to the Xolobeni residents.
“It is a simplification of a very serious issue which lacks a definitive alternative or solution.
“The regulatory authorities are duly charged with administering a process which allows full consultation for all interested and affected stakeholders including traditional landowners.
“It is somewhat contradictory and a travesty that the process has been railroaded to a point where that process is not allowed to continue to allow the appropriate submissions to be presented and assessed by the respective authorities who are charged with ensuring the resources of South Africa are extracted to the benefit of all people cognisant of all environmental and social impacts.”
There were indications from the start that the mining project had political backing.
In 2002, MRC announced that it had secured an R18-million investment from the South African Export Development Fund (SAEDF), an entity associated with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
The SAEDF is now managed by a private fund manager, Export Capital. The company did not respond to an emailed query about whether the investment went ahead and whether the fund ever held shares in MRC.
Other questions are raised by the opaque nature of the shareholding in Transworld, the entity pursuing Xolobeni. There is a mysterious 18% held by a nominee (placeholder) company, SGF Secretaries.
SGF refused to disclose the ultimate beneficial shareholders for whom it held the 18% stake.
In 2003, MRC hooked up with a newly-created empowerment partner, Xolobeni Empowerment Company (Xolco), initially represented by two directors, Maxwell Boqwana, a lawyer, and Zamile Qunya, a political operator who briefly served as mayor of Mbizana local municipality in the early 2000s.
Qunya and his brother Zamokwakhe “Basheen” Qunya had been influential in Accoda (the trust set up to pursue community-based eco-tourism and agriculture) but following their recruitment to the mining cause and its blandishments, they and their allies in the local authority were accused of deliberately undermining tourism alternatives.
In 2013, the Qunyas were ousted from Accoda at a stormy AGM in which a gun was pulled on Nonhle Mbuthuma, the current spokesperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee.
Boqwana’s presence as a founder of Xolco is suggestive of the mining project’s political pull: he is an influential Eastern Cape lawyer, later emerging as the chief executive of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.
At one point, Boqwana reportedly claimed that he was acting not for his own account, but under instruction from DME.
At Tormin, the West Coast mine, the original empowerment arrangement was with Bateman Africa, an engineering firm in which ANC investment company Chancellor House held an interest.
That gave way in 2005 to a proposal from the politically-connected Ehlobo Heavy Minerals, set up by two former DTI heavyweights. However, Ehlobo pulled out in February 2007, reportedly scared off by the negative publicity that the mining project was generating.
That left the Xolco as the senior empowerment partner to MRC, via two 100%-owned daughter companies, Blue Bantry Investments 225, which owns 50% of the Tormin mine and Keysha Investments 178, which owns 26% of Transworld and the Xolobeni prospect.
Xolco claims to be made up of five trusts set up for the benefit of the community, but a parliamentary reply as recent as December 2018 – some 15 years after Xolco was set up – stated: “The proposed BEE beneficiaries are community trusts, however, the supporting documents have not yet been submitted.”
Meanwhile, the sole director of Keysha is Prince Mzwandile Maraqana, the spokesperson for amaMpondo king Zanozuko Sigcau.
Sigcau (whose kingship is contested) is an outspoken supporter of mining, raising suspicions that Keysha is a proxy for the interests of this branch of the royal family.
As an influential community figure, Bazooka was lobbied to support mining.
“I was once [selected] as a member of Xolco in 2006,” he told journalist Ingi Salgado in a 2011 interview.
“When we asked questions about the role of the company, we were told it was specifically for the Xolobeni mine and we’d be given money and it would flow to the community… We were taken to Richards Bay to view mining operations there. That’s when I told them if that’s what it looks like then it’s not going to work here.
“I expected an underground mine like Johannesburg, I did not think of something open to take the land out. I asked where our cattle are going to graze and people stay. We were told not to be concerned about that because we should all be concerned about the money.”
Around this time, those worried about mining also began to garner important allies.
John Clarke is a Johannesburg-based social worker and human rights activist.
In 2001, he began his relationship with the Amadiba community after enjoying a family holiday with Amadiba Adventures, the community-owned horse and hiking trails set up by Accoda with assistance from the European Union.
Nonhle Mbuthuma, who would become the face of the crisis committee after Bazooka’s murder, was one of the original guides trained under the auspices of the EU-funded project.
In around 2006, Clarke returned to the area to find that prospecting activities by Transworld was generating conflict.
In a later memorandum he wrote: “I learned that certain community members who had aligned themselves with the interests of … Transworld were working to allegedly undermine Amadiba Adventures.”
Clarke had a network. He brought in attorney Richard Spoor, who later partnered with the Legal Resources Centre and also facilitated NGO and media engagement that documented the contested nature of the mining plans as well as the Qunya brothers’ divisive role.
That outside attention – allied with an extraordinary community effort – had an effect.
At the beginning of February 2007, Zamile Qunya and Boqwana resigned as directors of Xolco, though the new board included Qunya’s neighbour Mavis Denge and his brother Basheen.
Nevertheless, on 30 March 2007, Transworld and Xolco announced that a mining application had been lodged. In June 2007, the crisis committee was founded as a vehicle to contest the seemingly inevitable award of a mining licence.
The application required public consultation which provided a platform for local anti-mining leaders to take on the claims of the pro-mining lobby.
It also led to sharpened conflict and suspicion.
Salgado wrote later: “Many in the community remain convinced that there was more behind the spontaneous 2006 brain haemorrhage of anti-mining proponent Velaphi Ndovela, the ousted manager of Amadiba Adventures; the hospitalisation of Bazooka Radebe as his intestines rotted from a suspected poisoning; and the  death of headman Mandoda Ndovela, shot after outspoken criticism of mining… When Scorpion [Dimane] died… [in late 2007] community suspicions were heightened.”
There is no evidence at all that anyone from MRC was involved.
The Australians appeared unmoved by the havoc they had indirectly unleashed.
Some flavour of those times emerged in the outpouring of grief and anger a week after Bazooka’s murder in 2016.
In a furious press statement, the crisis committee recalled a 2007 meeting with Patrick Caruso, the MRC chief executive’s younger brother.
They wrote: “As we today mourn our Bazooka, the end of the meeting [in 2007] lives in our memory. The community leaders asked little Patrick: ‘Don’t you understand that this project leads to bloodshed in our community?’…
They alleged: “Patrick [replied]: ‘In my experience you cannot have development without blood.’ Bazooka then stood up and said: ‘OK, we can now close our books on this one.’ And the meeting was over.”
The pressure moved the needle.
An important factor was that under the old mineral rights regime, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) had to grant approvals independently from DME – and it emerged that DEAT had “grave concerns” about the case for mining.
The DME delayed its decision but in July 2008 Nogxina, using his delegated authority as director general of the department, awarded mining rights to Transworld for one third of the requested area.
This softly-softly approach did not succeed, despite some effort.
In August 2008, then-DME minister Buyelawa Sonjica set up a well-funded jamboree at Xolobeni to celebrate the award and convince residents that government had ruled in their interest.
According to a report in the Sunday Tribune, the authorities bussed in people from far beyond the affected mining area and laid on free food, entertainment and registration facilities for identity books and social welfare grants.
It noted that marshals kept a register, seemingly for mining lobbyists to record a huge groundswell of support. The reporter quoted Zamile Qunya referring disparagingly to the poor showing of the crisis committee: “As you can see 7 600 registered and there are only this handful, 60 people, who are protesting, led by the nose by John Clarke.”
(That allegation, of locals being influenced by white outsiders and foreign NGOs, is still the go-to trope for the current minister, Gwede Manatshe, as we shall see.)
However, anti-mining protesters, perhaps as many as 300, eventually barged their way into the event – it is said Bazooka punched Basheen Qunya – and halted the festivities, interrupting Sonjica’s speech and forcing a concession from her that she would return to hear their objections.
She returned a month later to an even more uncomfortable meeting.
Flanked by Nogxina, Sonjica was treated to a dressing-down, including from Bazooka and Sampson Gampe, a veteran of the Mpondo Revolt in the early 1960s, who told her: “We do not want mining; now or ever in the future.”
Spoor and the Legal Resources Centre had by then prepared court papers to challenge the legality of the process.
Sonjica buckled, suspending the licence a week later.
That administrative limbo set the scene for the complicated dance of influence and authority between Nogxina and Bazooka that played out in 2010.
Nogxina’s overtures to Bazooka were obviously designed to break the mining logjam, though their precise content and meaning are contested, as we shall see.
And in 2011 journalist Ingi Salgado entered the frame, eliciting versions of what had transpired in 2010 (from both Bazooka and Nogxina) that were captured and then buried – until now.
It happened like this.
In mid-June of 2011 Salgado travelled from her workplace in Durban down the South Coast to interview Bazooka.
It was a time when anti-mining interests appeared to have fought off the threat.
On 6 June the Legal Resources Centre in Grahamstown had received a letter from Susan Shabangu, the then DME minister, announcing that because of unresolved environmental concerns she was provisionally revoking the mining licence that had been suspended by her predecessor Sonjica.
Around the same time it was announced that Nogxina was to take “early retirement” as director general at the end of that same month, June.
Salgado had heard rumours about the role played by Nogxina at Xolobeni but did not know any details and set out to ask Bazooka about it.
His response was explosive.
He told Salgado that Nogxina had personally lobbied him to persuade the community to support mining, including proffering financial incentives.
Salgado’s written notes from that meeting record Bazooka saying: “I was not a friend to him, but suddenly he became so close and tried to be a friend when he wanted me to convince them to say they want mining…
“The DG asked that three accounts be opened, one for Xolco, one for the Amadiba Crisis Committee and one for me. R150,000 was to be deposited for changing peoples’ minds. 25% of the output (profit) from the mining operation was to be paid to Xolco and another 25% to the ACC. Once people said yes, R150,000 was to be paid into my account.”
Nogxina denies doing anything improper or offering an inducement. He concedes he did lobby Bazooka to support mining and says he saw nothing wrong in that.
He denies that his family roots and property investment in the area created any conflict of interest.
As the largest town in the vicinity of the intended mining area, Port Edward was likely to benefit from Xolobeni’s development, but Nogxina denies this constituted a conflict of interest for his decision on granting the mining licence.
He argues that any perceived conflict was not material and that he could not choose mining winners even if he wanted to because the application process was decentralised among multiple stakeholders with many checks and balances.
Salgado is a meticulous reporter.
Bazooka’s claims were serious, but made through a language barrier. After consultation with her editor, she returned a week or so later for a more detailed interview.
It is this long interview, filmed by Clarke, that survives as a record of Bazooka’s allegations.
Bazooka claims on the recording that he met Nogxina on three different occasions in 2010, during which the then-DG lobbied him to persuade the community to accept the proposed mining at Xolobeni.
In the interview he says, through an interpreter: “The first time round we met at a hotel, the second meeting was at his place and the third one was at the car wash.”
Bazooka said the first meeting was set up via Bongani Nogxina, who ran a car wash at Port Edward and whom he described as Nogxina’s son.
(Bongani is actually the son of Nogxina’s cousin, but would refer to Nogxina as “father”. He did not reply to amaBhungane’s request to discuss the matter.)
Bongani told Bazooka that Nogxina wanted to meet with him and the DG subsequently called and arranged a meeting at the Estuary Hotel in Port Edward.
Bazooka describes the first encounter as follows:
“After a few drinks he told me there was wealth for me to acquire if I got the community to change their minds because they listen to me. He told me we would be rich if the community agreed to this…
“He said we are going to be very rich as amaMpondo in this thing, so I must stop listening to these children that are friends with ‘mlungu’, which are all these white outsiders … so you must talk to the people so they will accept the mining… there is a lot of money to be made…
“I told him that I would organize a meeting for him with the community and he can try and convince them himself.”
Bazooka said the next meeting was at “Nogxina’s house”. Bazooka said his brother Wiseman came with him and that two other people that he did not know were with Nogxina.
“He told me to fight with all my might and change the mind of the community… He told me to convince them to agree with the mining.
“He told me that I would be able to build something huge in Xolobeni. He told me that I would be rewarded if the community changed their mind. That is when they brought up the issue of the R150 000, promising me that amount if I managed to get the community to change their mind. There was money set aside for the crisis committee and Xolco as well…
“He told me that we were going to be rich and he didn’t want his term to end without him having done something big for his community.”
Bazooka describes the third encounter, where the alleged payoff was increased to R200 000, as follows:
“He called me asking where I am, I think he heard I was at the car wash because his son [Bongani] was there. He then joined me at the car wash.”
Bazooka appears to have strung Nogxina along. He told the DG the people were “still confused”, but he would let him know when they were ready to meet with him.
“He said that he would come and that I shouldn’t forget that there was financial gain in this for me. That is when he promised me the R200 000.”
Nogxina denies ever offering money to Bazooka and told amaBhungane several times that Bazooka was someone who “exaggerated”.
Nogxina strikes back
On Tuesday 12 July 2011, Salgado directed a list of 24 questions to Nogxina, based on the allegations aired by Bazooka.
They came like a bolt from the blue for Nogxina, who was in the middle of a transition from being DG to serving as special advisor to minister Shabangu.
Nogxina says he was in Port Edward when he received the questions.
Then all hell broke loose.
According to Salgado’s notes from an interview with Bazooka just a couple of days later, he told her Nogxina called him on the Tuesday night to request a meeting about a list of questions. Then on the Wednesday morning, 13 July, he called again to say Bazooka must come to see him.
Speaking through an interpreter, Bazooka described the events as follows:
“I agreed to meet him because he said he wants to show what was sent to him, things the journalist said about him… he said [Bazooka] must come to meet him at his house in Port Edward [a different house to the previous meeting]… Nogxina asked why I wrote about him in the paper, mentioning he was drinking Viceroy. Why make all these allegations? I had to say, ‘I do not know about that.’ I denied it.”
Salgado’s notes continue: “He (Nogxina) was actually very, very angry, especially with the fact it was even alleged he was drinking Viceroy… [something the DG denied at the time, stating he does not drink because of his diabetes].
“The DG said Questions 4–12 were a big embarrassment to him. Bazooka must sign the affidavit to say he doesn’t know about this, otherwise his lawyer is going to sue the newspaper and sue Bazooka about this. If he doesn’t want to be part of the suing, he must go and sign.”
The affidavit in question is oddly-phrased. It merely states: “I have been shown the contents of the document hereto attached as annexure ‘A’. I dispute all the allegations attributed to me from paras 4 to 12 of the said document.”
It reflects being attested to by Bazooka at 11.00 that same day at the police community service centre at Port Edward.
Bazooka’s account, given to Salgado on 14 July, is corroborated by a contemporaneous affidavit from Clarke.
He states: “I received an anxious call at 11.43 am on 13th July from my client [Bazooka] pleading with me to please inform Ms Salgado that he had been called by the Advocate Nogxina to immediately come to his house in Port Edward.
“Upon his arrival he was surrounded with a number of people who, with Advocate Nogxina, questioned him. Two police vehicles arrived from Port Edward Police Station. It was clear that my client was actually going to be arrested if he refused to sign the affidavit.”
Salgado’s notes for the 13th record: “At 11.48 I received a call from John Clarke to inform me that “thugs” had arrived at Bazooka’s house to escort him to an unidentified police station, in an attempt to get him to sign an affidavit denying the allegations.
“I called Bazooka, the number was engaged, and I got through at 11:53. It was difficult to understand everything he said, because of our language barrier. Nevertheless, having spent hours interviewing him and knowing the sound of his voice, I could detect his adrenaline was pumping. I understood that there were 14 men with him at the police station… I suggested he not sign anything until he had spoken to his lawyer.
“After consulting with my editors, I called Sandile Nogxina at 12:25 to ask whether he was behind sending the men to intimidate Bazooka. Nogxina denied it…
“Nogxina said: ‘No, no, no, I don’t know anything about that.’ I said: ‘So you haven’t sent those people?’ He said: ‘No I can’t do that, please Ingi. I mean I can’t do that. Let alone some of those questions, really. But I really can’t do that.’ I asked: ‘What about those questions?’ He said: ‘I think they are so spurious. Some of the allegations that are made there. Jesus! But okay, that’s fine you’ll get my response.’ We said goodbye.”
Salgado’s notes record that Bazooka told her: “Please just don’t write all the story for the newspaper now. I am afraid now. I want to meet and explain nicely. I want to withdraw the statement. Please, Ingi.”
As a result, the paper did not run the story.
It is clear from her notes that Bazooka did not recant the allegations but was now worried about putting them in the public domain and being sued.
Her notes record him saying through an interpreter: “There were many men. It’s one of those things I’d love to get advice on because I myself feel it was actually to intimidate me… Now that Nogxina’s lawyers are involved, I need lawyer’s advice. I want to know if there’s any possibility of being sued… My intention giving you all the information is not to embarrass Nogxina. I have nothing against Nogxina as a person… I want to ensure that what I say stops the mining.”
It also seems Bazooka didn’t fully anticipate how his allegations would be used in a story and would be put to Nogxina in detail as a matter of course.
Nogxina’s written answers to Salgado’s emailed questions in 2011 were terse, sometimes to the point of seeming misleading.
Question: Have you ever called Mr [Bazooka] Radebe via phone? If so, for what purpose?
Answer: The former DG spoke to various members of the public in the process of executing his mandate, and there are no special circumstances in relation to the gentlemen mentioned.
Question: Did you ever meet Mr Radebe at the Estuary Hotel? If so, please state the purpose of the meeting, outline who was present, and its outcome.
Answer: Yes, the ex-DG was alone. [The rest of the question was not answered]
Question: Did you ask Mr Radebe to talk to the community to convince them of the benefits of mining at Xolobeni?
Question: Did you ever meet Mr Radebe at your home in Port Edward? If so, please state the purpose of the meeting, outline who was present, and its outcome.
On the key question of the inducement allegedly offered to Bazooka, Nogxina was more expansive.
Question: Mr Radebe claims you attempted to bribe him at this meeting with a monetary offer of R150000 in exchange for persuading Amadiba coastal communities to support mining operations in the area amid staunch resistance from the community… Did you ever offer to pay Mr Radebe? If so, what was the reason for such offer? If not, can you explain why Mr Radebe would make these allegations?
Answer: No. although it is the mandate of the department to promote mining we do not do it that way.
The former DG rejects these spurious and malicious allegations which, in his considered view, are nothing else but an attempt to damage his reputation and integrity.
Faced with Nogxina’s denials, Bazooka’s problematic affidavit and his expressed wish for the newspaper not to proceed, Salgado and her editor agreed to hold the story.
And then nearly all those involved left the stage.
Salgado was badly affected by the experience, booked off for stress and parted ways with her employer at the end of August 2011.
In October that year it was reported that Nogxina was being shunted off to become ambassador to Mexico, a post he took up, reluctantly he now says, on 1 March 2012.
Clarke submitted a complaint about Nogxina to the public protector, but she referred him to the police, who, he says, showed little interest.
By September 2012 Transworld could state in legal correspondence that: “SAPS has advised Mr Nogxina that he… has no case to answer and that the charges laid by Mr Clarke will also not be taken any further.”
The mining proposals remained on ice. Whatever had transpired between Nogxina and Bazooka receded into the background.
Then, in March 2015, Transworld applied for a new mining licence and the cycle of conflict escalated again.
A well-attended community meeting in April decided to block access to the area so that Transworld would not be able to source the required environmental impact assessment.
On 22 March 2016, Bazooka was assassinated.
Two men posing as policemen came to his workshop and insisted he accompany them. When he resisted they shot him multiple times and fled in a hijacked car.
If his murder was at the behest of someone in the pro-mining lobby, as the crisis committee alleges, then it was counter-productive.
Activists and the media converged on Xolobeni again. Four months later MRC announced it would divest its majority interest in the dune-mining venture because of “ongoing violence and threats to the peace and harmony of the Xolobeni community”.
MRC said it planned to sell its 56% to Transworld’s 26% empowerment shareholder, Keysha Investments, where King Zanozuko’s spokesperson was the only director, “subject to satisfactory commercial negotiations and agreement with its other shareholder”.
That deal was never consummated due, the company says, to uncertainty created by an 18-month moratorium imposed by then mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane in September 2016.
Zwane cited “the significant social disintegration and highly volatile nature of the current situation in the area” as the reason for suspending the licensing process once again.
In December 2017 the Jacob Zuma slate was narrowly defeated at the ANC’s elective congress and following Zuma’s resignation in February 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Gwede Mantashe as the new mining minister.
On 3 August 2018, Mantashe announced his intention to extend Zwane’s mining moratorium by a further 24 months or “or until the Minister is satisfied that the community conflict and unrest has been resolved and that the application can continue”.
But in an investor presentation released on 24 August 2018, MRC suggested things were looking up for Xolobeni, noting in one bullet point: “New South African Government Leadership is pro development of Project.”
Then, on 29 August 2018, Mantashe addressed the 16th Africa Down Under mining conference in Perth, Western Australia, where he also met with MRC.
In September it was announced the minister would be attending a community meeting at Xolobeni on September 23.
It was another jamboree – and had clearly been organised some time in advance.
Mantashe later disclosed that the department had sourced catering for 5 000 people and transport had been laid on by the Mbizana local municipality.
Johan Lorenzen, a lawyer from Richard Spoor Attorneys, speaking ahead of the meeting, said there was perception among his clients that “this is a staged event, that people will be bused in to support mining”.
Indeed, another confrontation ensued when anti-mining protesters were blocked by police from entering the marquee where Mantashe was due to speak.
Spoor himself was arrested shortly after being filmed telling Mantashe, “I am trying to help you. If you work with us we can work together to solve problems.”
In the clip, Mantashe responded: “Okay. But you are disrupting my meeting.” To which Spoor replied, “I’m trying to fix your meeting.”
Charges of “incitement” were subsequently withdrawn against Spoor.
The meeting revealed Mantashe’s stance.
His department maintained that “a small group of people were instigated to disrupt and suppress discussions‚ but the meeting proceeded as planned” – and noted that only one organisation (the ACC) out of ten was against mining development in the area.
The meeting also revealed the return of Sandile Nogxina, who was present on that day.
He had been appointed as a special adviser to Mantashe in February 2018, but until 23 September the crisis committee had not been aware of this.
Now he was back – and back at Xolobeni, despite his history with Bazooka, which, from the point of view of the crisis committee, made him highly controversial and conflicted.
That history became relevant once more – and in January 2019 the crisis committee approached amaBhungane to consider taking up where Salgado had left off.
Three issues made that request compelling.
Firstly, the fact that Bazooka’s murder was still unsolved and, moreover, that there were indications of a cover-up (of which more in a second article, perhaps).
Secondly, in November 2018 the community’s lawyers, led by advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, achieved a remarkable triumph in persuading the North Gauteng High Court that customary law and the Interim Protection of Informal Right to Land Act trumped mining legislation read the full judgement here.
In short, the court ruled that the Xolobeni community had the right to say no to mining on their land – a conclusion that Mantashe dramatically warned would be a death knell for the industry.
Thirdly, when Mantashe went back to Xolobeni for a second time on 16 January – a sortie that began with a pop-up youth group claiming to support mining and ended with police stun grenades and chaos – the question arose as to why Mantashe was investing enormous political capital on a project that was certifiably politically toxic, while being economically marginal.
On 22 May we sent a list of 44 questions to Nogxina, and nine (see here) were directed to the minister.
Nogxina’s (second) version
An interview with Nogxina took place on 29 May and lasted more than 95 minutes, during which he was unfailingly courteous.
He wanted to highlight two things.
One, that licence applications were submitted at regional level and had to pass multiple gateways and committees up the chain to receive his formal signature on the recommendation.
“I don’t sit in a corner there and then decide that, okay, I will grant this license… There are lots of checks and balances, you know; it wouldn’t be possible for me even if I wanted… to favour Xolobeni; it wouldn’t be possible.”
And two, that there was really no serious conflict – or that it was ameliorated in various ways.
“I mean to be honest with you I don’t see where the conflict is. Of course, I’ve got properties in Port Edward… there’s quite a number of my relatives who live in Port Edward but… remember that Port Edward… is a tourist town and no value can be created by mining in a tourist town…
“I don’t think that development or value would jump [from] Xolobeni… and accrue to Port Edward…
“Let’s look at the kind of businesses I’m involved in there. It’s farming. And I’m farming macadamia nuts. How would macadamia nuts benefit out of mining you can’t even supply macadamia products to a mine…”
Nogxina also was keen to emphasize that his role was as an advisor, that Mantashe was the decision-maker – and that he had taken steps to warn Mantashe about the perception of conflict and to minimise his own [Nogxina’s] role regarding Xolobeni.
“As a special advisor to the minister, whenever the minister needs your input, he calls you go and advise on that particular issue. So it was in that capacity that I had to go to Xolobeni … three times…
“Now [what you call my] active participation in the promotion of mining in Xolobeni is only confined to my responsibility as an advisor… I give advice, and the minister decides whether to take that advice or not…
“If you can look at my participation in Xolobeni as against the participation of the other advisor, Mr. Sello Helepi, you’ll find that my participation is minimal…
“At the first meeting I was just sitting there observing… There was no active participation from my part precisely because of what you are saying [about the perception of conflict].
“I’ve raised this several times with the minister that because of the fact that there is somebody there called John Clarke, who has a particular perception of me, I wouldn’t like to be seen as actively participating in the Xolobeni issue. And indeed, I’m not…”
Nogxina was quite clear that he had raised with Mantashe the issue of his perceived conflict. The problem with this is that, in our subsequent interview, Mantashe conceded no such understanding, as we shall see – though this may reflect more on Mantashe’s bullheaded attitude than on Nogxina’s candour.
Nogxina on Bazooka
Turning to the actual Bazooka allegations, Nogxina was constrained to shift his position.
Now, in addition to the Estuary hotel meeting, he confirmed meeting or bumping into Bazooka quite a few times, mainly at the car wash. And when they spoke, “definitely the issue of the mining would come up in our discussions”.
Nogxina even conceded that he could have encouraged Bazooka to use his influence in favour of mining.
He told us:
“I’m not going to deny or be apologetic about the fact that… my responsibility was to promote mining…
“But I feel that there is an exaggeration… in the characterization of the meetings that we had… you know, it cannot be that, in the process, I used the kind of language that is alleged…
“Bazooka mixes his facts and fiction; he exaggerates the facts. Because in all the meetings… I was not promoting a particular company, I was promoting mining, because I believe that mining would be an activity that would allow the development of that area.”
Would he have conveyed to Bazooka in any way that he should use his influence to bring that about?
“Definitely, I could have… Because remember, he was the chairperson… of the crisis committee. And therefore … if I was promoting mining it would be logical that I would have to speak to him…
“But I wouldn’t characterize benefits in that way of wealth and all that. But I would characterize benefits in the form of benefits that accrue to the community.
“We should remember Mpondos, you know, were the backbone of the South African mining industry. And my argument was that they were sending their sons to go and mine in Johannesburg. Why is it now that when the mining is going to be in their backyard are they refusing?”
When it came to Bazooka’s allegation that he was offered money, Nogxina again said this was “exaggeration”.
Nogxina claimed this was a characteristic: “Bazooka, by the way, people know that Bazooka exaggerates; go to the taxi rank there and ask them they will tell you that this is his nature.”
That conclusion does not emerge easily from a viewing of Salgado’s interview with Bazooka, where he appears to take some care to distinguish what he knows and what he doesn’t, but readers will have to make up their own minds.
Nogxina claimed also that Bazooka gave different versions to different audiences: “Remember, Bazooka was playing both sides here. Okay? He wanted to convince the crisis committee people that he was with them. And at times he would come to these other [pro-mining] people and negotiate with them to be involved…”
Nogxina’s version of what meetings took place, and where, is vague – but he is succinct about what happened after he received Salgado’s questions.
“I called Bazooka: Did you say these things? And Bazooka said: ‘No Bhuti. No, no, no, I cannot as I have a lot of respect for you. I can’t say those things. I can’t say that. No, no, this is not true. And by the way, I was speaking in Xhosa. And there was somebody was translating for me. And I think that’s where the problem was, I didn’t say those things’…”
“And I said to Bazooka: Okay, if you say so, go to the police station… The police will give you an affidavit form; fill in that form and bring it back to me. So he did that, brought that back to me.”
Nogxina says he knows nothing about the group of “14 men” allegedly intimidating Bazooka at the police station and claims Bazooka came to see him accompanied only by Bongani Nogxina.
The old bull
Mantashe has just been reappointed mining minister when we speak, with the added portfolio of energy, making him one of the most powerful ministers in Ramaphosa’s new cabinet.
Mantashe has a combative style. He starts off by demanding: “But what is this story actually about?”
When I begin by putting it to him that Nogxina had told us he had expressed his concern to Mantashe not to be involved with Xolobeni because of perceptions that he might have a conflict of interest, Mantashe will have none of it.
“What is the conflict?” he asks. “He [Nogxina] didn’t say anything. I come here 14 months 15 months now… One of the issues I find on the table is Xolobeni then I dig into it. It is there for 16 years. Then my question is what kind of a department is this, that allows an item to be on the table for 16 years.
“We must take a decision. If we take a decision not to mine let’s take that decision; if we take a decision to mine, let’s take that decision and everything will follow that.”
Later he states: “My advisor advises me he, doesn’t DEAL with Xolobeni, I deal with Xolobeni.”
It appears Mantashe’s dismissal of any knowledge of Nogxina’s concerns is more about not conceding even the remote possibility of a conflict, rather than throwing his advisor under the bus.
“My job is to promote mining; that can’t be a conflict,” he insists.
But how far does that job go? Does it go as far as supporting puppets that have their strings pulled by the mining lobby?
At Mantashe’s second sortie at Xolobeni on 16 January, the meeting collapsed when the chair (Mantashe’s other adviser, Helepi) brought forward a young man from the back of a queue of speakers. He was introduced as Simlindile Matsheleza, purporting to speak as a member of the crisis committee in support of mining.
The man, whose real name appears to be Anita Dineka, set off the uproar when he told the gathering that the Xolobeni community supports mining but is “fooled by whites”.
Later the crisis committee alleged Dineka was linked to Zamile Qunya and was being sheltered at Basheen’s home in Port Edward.
Neither Qunya nor MRC responded to a question about this.
Then there was the list of local organisations that Mantashe trumpeted were in support of mining, which included two trusts that were not yet registered.
Confronted with these claims, Mantashe concedes nothing: ”When I came [to the ministry], the first thing that happens is that there are NGOs, Johannesburg-based, well resourced, funded, that wanted to speak for rural mining areas. And I said it can’t be correct. Let’s talk to everybody including the rural based organisation that may not be formally registered and all that [because] they are in a village… They have a right to be heard…
“Where they get their money is not my business. Others will be funded by international entities that have no natural South African interest.”
While Mantashe insists he does “not know” Dineka, that didn’t stop him from claiming on television that his appearance demonstrated there were “cracks in the anti-mining group”.
There will be blood
When I put it to Mantashe that his job is to support mining, but not at all costs, he retorts: “But at the same time, your clients from Xolobeni must desist from a behaviour whose strategy is based on blocking us from talking to people there… we have been to Xolobeni twice, talked to communities, well attended meetings, by the way. And they came and tried to disrupt both meetings.
“In my vocabulary, we should not tolerate that, period. Because if we do that, we’re going to suppress views of many people, because there is a vocal group.
“My view of the Amadiba Crisis Committee is that they must allow us to continue exercising the right of this department to talk to communities… You can’t get a consent by correspondence, you can only get that consent by going there. Okay. And they must stop their temptation to think that we’ll not go there. Because we’ll go there.”
Turning to the Pretoria High Court judgement, Mantashe says they are appealing the aspect requiring the communal land owners must give “full and informed consent” before any mining right may be granted.
“Because we see that as transferring the right to issue licenses from the state to communities… you want then every last person to say yes, that is what ‘full’ should mean. It means if 10% of the people that say no, we should not go ahead.”
But, I suggest, the history of resistance at Xolobeni suggests that there is an overwhelming rejection of mining.
Mantashe counters: “But that shall be proven. That’s all we say. And if its proven that is only 10% that support mining, we should not go ahead with mining, simple.”
But who gets to decide? Who exactly gets polled?
That is the crucial question that Mantashe elides. When I suggest it should be only those families directly affected, he disagrees, arguing that mining “does not only affect the immediate communities”.
And there’s the rub and the basis for Mantashe’s strategy: the further you go from the beaches and the estuaries, the more the costs of mining recede to be someone else’s problem, and the louder ring the siren promises of benefit.
When I ask him about the appropriate balance between mining as a development tool and the damage to environment and community, he has a glib answer:
“I come across that all the time – I’m a mine-worker myself. You know how I normally describe mining? I say it is difficult. It is dangerous. It is dirty. It is diseased. Okay, that’s mining.
“Now, if you can take extreme positions on that matter we will not have what is called sustainable development.
“Which means if you are mining, conditions must be imposed that limit what you can do and what you cannot do. That’s why we are mining we give the mining license. Water gives the water license and environment gives the environmental license; because all the time we must balance the three.”
But Mantashe knows the three are not balanced, not at Xolobeni anyway, and he knows where he throws his considerable weight.
After the formal interview ends and the tape is off he drops his guard a little.
He asks if I have heard Ramaphosa lamenting that the democratic government has not built new towns, new cities – and he answers his own query: “If [mining] development is done right, there could be a whole new town.”
“At Xolobeni?” I ask, somewhat incredulous at his casual intransigence.
“At Xolobeni,” he confirms.
In her judgement on the right of traditional communities to say no, judge Annali Basson noted: “The community [is] strongly opposed to the proposed mining activities … on the basis that it will not only bring about a physical displacement from their homes, but will lead to an economic displacement of the community and bring about a complete destruction of their cultural way of life…Their fears are not without merit.”
She noted that the proposals had already created enormous divisions within the community.
“I have already mentioned the volatile situation that exists in this community as a result of the granting of mining rights…
“When directors of XolCo and their associates tried to gain access to the proposed mining site in 2015, violence erupted…
“Violence again erupted in December 2015 when a group of mining opponents were assaulted by a group of mining supporters.
“On 3 February 2016 the community received a redacted copy of the mining right application from [Tranworld’s] attorneys…
“The community thereafter got word that drilling would commence on 22 February and that if access was not allowed, force would be used…
“In March 2016 word got out that there was a hit list of mining opponents. That same evening a certain Mr Radebe was shot and killed by two unknown assassins which gave rise to speculation amongst the community about the motives for the killing.”
Despite this background, Mantashe wants to build a shining city on a rural Mpondo hill.
Perhaps he too believes that, for development, it may be necessary to spill blood.
Bazooka was not the first victim – it seems likely he will not be the last.