Background on the Xolobeni battle
In 2002, Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), along with local subsidiary Transworld Energy and Resources, announced a proposal to mine titanium from a 22km coastal stretch of Mpondoland. Some within Mpondoland were in favour, and the department of mineral resources supported MRC’s application for mining rights in 2007. Strident promises were made regarding the potential benefits of the mine, but large sections of the local community were fiercely opposed, forming the Amadiba Crisis Committee to protect their environment, livelihoods and traditions. A protracted battle ensued, which proved divisive, destructive and at times even violent. The department eventually announced a moratorium on mining in Mpondoland in September 2016, granting the community a temporary reprieve. In November 2018, the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the rights of customary communities had to be respected, and the government would need to obtain consent from such communities before granting mining licences. Subsequent court victories, such as the one in September 2020 that granted affected communities the right to see applications for mineral licences, have further bolstered the protection of ancestral lands. Last month, the Western Cape High Court ruled that a defendant in a defamation case may use the so-called “Slapp“defence, effectively preventing large corporations from weaponising the legal system against civil society organisations and individuals acting in the public interest by bombarding them with frivolous defamation actions. (MRC and its local subsidiary had brought a series of defamation lawsuits totalling R14.25m against three environmental lawyers, two activists and a social worker).
In late February, however, Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane reaffirmed the province’s commitment to the controversial N2 Wild Coast Toll Road project, which will divert the current N2 highway through the heart of Mpondoland. Local communities fear the highway will simply give miners easier access to the shoreline, thus removing a major obstacle to their plans.