The Mercury

Wild Coast mining bid violence


- Tony Carnie

VIOLENCE has erupted on the Wild Coast following bitter opposition to plans by an Australian mining company to extract heavy minerals from the coastal dunes in Xolobeni, south of the Wild Coast Sun casino and holiday resort.

Several rural roads have been blockaded with trees and rocks and at least three people – including an elderly woman with severe hack wounds to her arms – are reported to have been injured. It is alleged that pro-mining groups launched a late-night attack on villagers opposed to mining.

Mzamo Dlamini, a member of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, representi­ng residents opposed to the dune mining, said that around 8.30pm on Sunday a convoy of about 15 cars arrived at Xolobeni. The occupants began to beat up residents with pistol butts and sticks, he said.

A woman aged about 65 was allegedly attacked with a bush knife and almost had her arm hacked off, while two other men suffered head wounds after being beaten with pistol butts and sticks, he said.

“Most of these people had guns and they just went and attacked people. Now people are sleeping outside because they feel unsafe. There were terrified that a whole convoy of cars came at night and started beating people and shooting guns to send a message to them.”

But Zamile Madiba Qunya, the director of a subsidiary company of the Australian­based Minerals Resource Commoditie­s (MRC), had a very different story to tell.

Qunya said he drove to the area for a meeting on Sunday, escorted by police, after supporters of the anti-mining Amadiba Crisis Committee blocked off roads last week to prevent mining company consultant­s entering the area to collect mineral samples.

“These people were armed with dangerous traditiona­l weapons and intimidati­ng people to oppose the mining. They had a meeting at a local school at 3pm on Sunday to intimidate people.

“So yesterday (Sunday), we had a meeting of leaders at Xolobeni school because we support the mine.

“I heard from one of my brothers that Ntethelelo Madikizela (a friend) was blocked off at Mtentu. They had put big rocks in the road and I tried to rush there.”

He said he was confronted by a group of residents who damaged the wing mirror of his 4x4 vehicle, and he later laid a complaint with police.

Asked to comment on reports that occupants of a large convoy of vehicles had attacked and beaten up people, Qunya said: “I did not see that. The police were also there and said we should stay away. There is a small group of people who are fighting because someone has misled them. We are saying that if you don’t want a mine, you must participat­e in the environmen­tal impact assessment (EIA) process ... but there is no right to block roads or beat people”.

Responding to e-mail queries, a senior Eastern Cape police officer told The Mercury she could not provide any informatio­n before speaking to the investigat­ing officer.

The Mercury was also unable to contact the MRC executive chairman Mark Caruso in Perth last night, while a local subsidiary company consultant, Debbie Ntombela, said she had no first-hand knowledge of the events at Xolobeni. “This is hearsay for me, but I’m told that some of the people had knobkierie­s, pangas and other dangerous weapons,” she said.

Ntombela said she had been informed that members of the crisis committee also threw stones at some of the vehicles in the area and that a man had fired shots in the air after being threatened by a group armed with pangas.

“There is an allegation that the mine was involved, but that is not correct.”

Mzamo Dlamini, from the crisis committee, said a meeting had been planned for Thursday at the Mgungundlo­vu Tribal Authority hall to discuss a resolution to the violence.

“We need to ask questions on why people came to this area on Sunday night to attack us. We have to ask why these people came in their cars when they don’t even stay here.”

Dlamini said while he was not present at Xolobeni on Sunday, he visited the area for a meeting yesterday and saw two injured men with bandaged heads.

Witnesses had provided The Mercury with the names of several men allegedly linked to a local mining empowermen­t company who allegedly attacked local residents, including the name of a man who allegedly hacked the arm of an elderly woman with a bush knife.

The woman was reported to have been taken to St Patrick’s Hospital in Bizana by ambulance, but a spokesman for the hospital could not be reached for confirmati­on.

Richard Spoor, an attorney acting for residents opposed to the mining plan, said people were opposed to losing their homes, grazing land and culture.

“Yes, I’m sure there are people in the Bizana area who want to benefit from mining jobs – but you cannot just force people to move out to make way for mining. The majority of people actually affected by the mining are overwhelmi­ngly opposed to this.”

Spoor said that mining legislatio­n did not cater for unacceptab­le impacts on people affected by mining, and it could take years before communitie­s were permitted to approach a court for legal relief.

“By then, the environmen­t will be utterly transforme­d and the machines would have moved in. I’ve seen this situation repeated time and again. People refuse to move out for mining and as the mine moves closer and closer, they eventually agree to move but it is not a fair process. They are compelled to move,” he said.

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