South Africa - Stop Xolobeni project to avoid another Marikana

Date of publication: 
10 July 2015

One cannot help but wonder how much longer the government will stand by as an observer to a war brewing up in Xolobeni on the Wild Coast?

The conflict tearing apart families, communities, clans and tribe is a sad one – and destined to go on for generations, perhaps forever, similar to the war of the cousins, Israel and Palestine.

Violence has already flared up and earlier this year five people, allegedly with direct financial links to the international mining company seeking to strip mine the dunes at Xolobeni for titanium, were interdicted from threatening or assaulting those opposed to the mining.

As I write families with children abandon their homes to sleep in the mountains and forests because of the conflict.

For those communities located along the Wild Coast, the choice is to side with the international mining interests or to maintain a way of life steeped in spirituality and to preserve their culture.

The mining will impact on land that includes graves sites, fields for grazing and raising crops, and land for harvesting medicinal plants and other natural edible herbs.

It is this government’s act of allowing steps to be taken towards mining that sparked and continues to foment the conflict. It was decided to move ahead with the mining notwithstanding clear signs over the years of its divisive impact and threat to peace, stability and livelihoods.

Imagine your family finding themselves in such a predicament by the making of your own government. Why can’t our government act urgently to undo something that is, in essence, of its own doing?

A failure to withdraw the prospecting licence and to allow mining to go ahead will surely result in the government having succeeded where successive white colonial governments failed, that is, to weaken and destroy arguably the only unconquered South African nation.

Grave existential concerns found the basis of my suggestion that it is time to forever abandon mining as an option on the Wild Coast and perhaps on any lands our African communities hold dear for their sustenance, cultural and spiritual significance.

In withdrawing the licence and forever abandoning mining as an option along the length of the Wild Coast, this government will not only be recognising the inherent value of peace over the pursuit of profits, it will also be affirming there is value in the life of every African without regard to status.

Mining as a panacea for poverty has long been proven a myth. Poor South African communities that are by historical fate situated on precious metal bearing lands continue to be uprooted, experience their livelihoods being destroyed and their environments degraded – all in return for promises of employment and wealth that never materialise.

I ask those who advocate mining as a cure-all for poverty to show me a single community that made way for mining and thereafter enjoyed sustainable livelihoods, let alone reaped the rich rewards promised.

Any promised jobs for locals that come from mining are invariably limited to the infrastructure development phase which ends with locals making way for skilled imported labour and sophisticated machinery that are the core executors of modern day mining.

The lives of displaced locals who then live on the periphery of heavily guarded mining compounds become characterised by broken families, endemic poverty, alcoholism, destitution, drugs, violence and disease.

Their environment becomes degraded by pollution, their livelihoods are destroyed, their way of life is forever changed and their heritage decimated.

Even the RDP style homes and community centres into which they are uprooted succumb to the daily blasting taking place at the mine.

Their health too succumbs to a respiratory onslaught and other ailments emanating from the toxins generated by the mining operation.

These, in a nutshell, are the real rewards to be reaped by the communities of the Wild Coast if mining goes ahead.

Consider the irony that a sizeable portion of the people who were part of the resistance in Marikana, including those who perished, or were wounded, came from the Pondoland region in which Xolobeni is situated. As if it has not been enough to kill them in faraway lands!

It is possible to still take some comfort in the belief (although a fast-fading one) that voices of reason are yet to be found in the corridors of power. Specifically in this instance, it is worth mentioning those who come from the Wild Coast.

The Deputy Minister of Labour, Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa (Aah Dilizintaba!), is one who we not only believe has a vested interest in the preservation of the culture, livelihoods and peace of the region, but was also called on to head a fact-finding mission into Xolobeni sometime in the recent past. We believe he possesses sufficient gravitas to urgently prevail in the situation.

Another local person worth mentioning is the MEC for agriculture and rural development, Mlibo Qoboshiyane, who has been advocating for an agrarian approach to sustainable livelihoods with evangelical zeal.

His assumed position, which is laudable as much as it is rational given our realities, has by default placed him diametrically opposite the mining option.

One can only hope and trust he is consistent and has the courage of his convictions to become a voice of reason in the corridors of power, opposing mining.

Take away such voices and things will surely come to a head if mining goes ahead. And if that day comes, Marikana will, regrettably, be dwarfed in tragic dimensions by a full-blown, sustained conflagration that will forever mark the occasion.

Assuming the same arrogant attitude the state displayed in handling Marikana would be a monumental mistake in the face of determined resolve by communities opposed to mining, and also living within their own familiar environment.

It is best for government to act now to avert a tragedy.

We can all do without another collective trauma. We have witnessed enough blood-letting in our beautiful but tragic land.

Advocate Lwazi Pumelela Kubukeli is a Ford Foundation International fellow and holds a Master of Philosophy Degree in Land and Agrarian Studies through a thesis researched within the communities of the Wild Coast.