MAC: Mines and Communities

South Africa: MRC withdraw from Xolobeni project

Published by MAC on 2016-07-25
Source: Statement, Business Day, Ecologist (2016-07-24)

... but intimidation continues

The following articles track the recent decision of the Australian mining company, MRC, to divest  from the Xolobeni mineral sands mining project (See: Protestors stand in solidarity with South African communities opposing mining).

The withdrawal of MRC is seen as an important win - and one welcomed by the Amadiba community's legal representatives. However, it is still not clear whether the company has truly disinvested, or whether it will retain some form of covert financial interest in the proposed mine.

Also MRC's decision has not affected the situation on the ground, where the bitter divisions the proposed project has brought continue to manifest themselves in serious confrontation. There is also ongoing intimidation of anti-mining activists, including allegedly from local police.

Two members of ACC arrested and released today for "assault 29 December"

Amadiba Crisis Committee statement

24 July 2016

Today, Sunday morning at about 7.00, two double bakkies without police-branding, entered Mdatya village. Mdatya is one of the five coastal Amadiba villages that oppose the “Xolobeni Mining Project”.

In the bakkies sat four police officers in plain clothes. They came to arrest Boyboy Dimane (20), Skebhe Dlamini (22) and a third Mdatya resident.

Mr Mdlele S. Bhele sat in one bakkie with the police. He is one of four arrested after the so called Christmas shootings in Mdatya 21-30 December. Mr Bhele is out on bail. The trial is currently pending in the Flagstaff regional court.

Together with three others, Mr Bhele faces charges for a bush knife and knobkerrie attack the 29 December. Three residents were injured in the evening when walking from a big community meeting. This occurred after 7 days of intimidation, including the firing of a R5 rifle 30 December. The group of four are suspected to be the culprits.

We are deeply concerned that today’s event is part of a plot to weaken the Christmas shooting case. We are equally concerned if forces in Mzamba police participate in such a plot.

The new charges against three ACC members appear 7 months after 29 December. The officers claimed that this case was opened “long ago”.

The police hand-cuffed Boyboy Dimane, saying he was charged for “beating a girl”. When Boyboy’s sisters asked who that girl is, the officers did not answer. They then went to the homestead of Skebhe Dlamini, but only Skebhe’s mother and cousin were in the house. The police also wanted to arrest the brother of the resident who broke his leg in attack, but the brother is working outside Amadiba.

When the bakkies left Mdatya they were first stopped and questioned by the community. There was no way for people to tell if they were police or gangsters. The officers had to come out and explain themselves. Now the story was that Boyboy was arrested for attacking Mdlele Bhele, 29 December.

Boyboy was in the group that was attacked 29/12, but managed to run away. He should be a key witness at the upcoming trial against Bhele and others.

When the bakkies with Boyboy arrived back at the Mzamba station, leaders of ACC were waiting. About an hour later, Skebhe Dlamini arrived. He had walked for two hours from Mdatya when he heard the Police was looking for him.

Skebhe, for his part, came to the site of the attack 29 December after the event. He was among them who helped the three injured. Also he should be a witness in the trial of Mdlele Bhele, Thembile Ndovela, Mto Bhele and Xolile Dimane.

The Mzamba police first attempted to keep Boyboy and Skebhe in jail before they appear in Mbizana Magistrates Court on Thursday 28 July. The officers argued Skebhe had tried to escape. They finally decided to release the two on a free bail.

Nonhle Mbuthuma: “Just before the 19 July visit of the Deputy Minister of Police, Ms Sotyu, the police hurried to form a Community Police Forum (CPF), saying they would work with us. Today, there was no contact with the CPF. The police came as usual.”

“The police complained the community made their task difficult. I asked them what to expect if they come in plain clothes and in unbranded bakkies. Our chair person has been shot. This community is still in shock after the killing of Bazooka by hitmen pretending to be police.”

Amadiba Crisis Committee secretary Nonhle Mbuthuma: 0763592982.

The Umgungundlovu Traditional Authority and the ACC are represented by Richard Spoor Inc. in Johannesburg and LRC in Cape Town and Pietermaritzburg. For legal issues in the coastal Amadiba community struggle against mining: Thabiso Mbhense 0711099340, Henk Smith 0832661770, and Richard Spoor 0836271722.


Ministers duck questions on mining of titanium in Amadiba sand dunes

by Mathieu Dasnois

http://www.bdlive.co.za/business/mining/2016/07/20/ministers-duck-questions-on-mining-of-titanium-in-amadiba-sand-dunes

20 July 2016

GOVERNMENT ministers at a packed meeting in Xolobeni this week ducked questions on the controversial titanium mining project and on the violence that has wracked the Eastern Cape village for years.

Residents had hoped for information on police investigations into the killing of activist Sikhosiphi "Bazooka" Rhadebe.

But Deputy Police Minister Maggie Sotyu‚ who addressed the meeting alongside Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources Godfrey Oliphant‚ did not mention Rhadebe’s death.

A vocal opponent of a titanium mining project in the area‚ Rhadebe was murdered in March. He was the chair of the Amadiba Crisis Committee‚ which has been co-ordinating opposition to the mineral sands mine proposed by Australian company Mineral Commodities (MRC) and its South African partners.

No arrests have been made.

MRC has since decided to pull out of the project. Citing "ongoing violence and threats to the peace and harmony" of the community‚ MRC announced on Monday that it would sell its 56% interest in Transworld Energy and Resources — which owns the Xolobeni project — to its black empowerment partner Keysha Investments.

Tuesday’s meeting in Xolobeni was attended by more than 1‚000 people‚ split into camps.

On Sotyu’s right were those in favour of mining‚ dressed in suits and ties‚ generally quiet except when clapping. In the middle of the tent was a mixed crowd‚ with VIPs in front.

On Sotyu’s left were those opposed to mining‚ with many black Amadiba Crisis Committee T-shirts visible on people of all ages. Generally more vocal‚ they interrupted the imbizo several times in protest‚ singing and dancing‚ and waving plastic chairs in the air.

Sotyu had come to address issues of violence in the area and to respond to accusations by the Crisis Committee of police bias in favour of mining. The Committee has complained of random searches by plainclothes police‚ lack of prosecution of crimes committed by activists in favour of mining‚ and a lack of will to stem the violence which has wracked the community for years.

Sotyu’s message was that the community had to come together and heal the existing rifts. She said she hoped the imbizo could be the start of such a process.

Members of the audience were allowed to ask ten questions which were collected and answered at the end of the event.

Sotyu refused to answer questions about missing case files or police bias without an active case number‚ referring questioners to a nearby Department of Justice booth.

Nonhle Mbuthuma‚ secretary of the Amadiba Crisis Committee‚ later said the deputy minister had not addressed the purpose of the imbizo.

"She repeated that the government has full confidence in the police six times. The issue before her was that the community has lost its confidence in local SAPS."

Addressing Oliphant‚ Mbuthuma told Rhadebe’s story. She said he had known that his life was in danger. "People keep on dying. How many is too many? How many have to die before you stop the mining?"

Partly in response‚ Oliphant warned the crowd not to try to pressure the government for or against mining. He told the audience in general and members of the Amadiba Crisis Committee in particular that the titanium in question did not belong to them‚ but to the people of SA.

"Don’t appropriate power to yourselves‚" he said‚ adding that the government could be trusted to make responsible decisions on mining.

He said the government‚ not the community‚ would decide on the mine.

"The peace that we want in Xolobeni is the peace that Mandela died for‚" he told the crowd. "The leaders must come together and speak with one voice … Mining can happen peacefully if we work together."

Oliphant attacked lawyer Richard Spoor‚ who represents the anti-mining activists. Members of the Committee answered with shouts and singing‚ waving plastic chairs‚ eventually forcing the imbizo to close.

The VIPs filed out of the tent behind heavily armoured riot police. They would not stop to answer questions and no police spokesperson could be found.

What the event lacked in answers‚ it made up for in services.

Both Deputy Ministers’ speeches were preceded by praise singers and punctuated by dancing groups. Outside the tent was a mobile clinic. Inside another tent was a police recruiting station and free condoms‚ as well as a Home Affairs station – "a first for this area" according to Chris Harrison‚ a mathematics teacher from nearby Mtentu.


Government to set up task team to resolve conflict in Xholobeni

Khaya Gobo

http://www.sabc.co.za/news/a/dfce61004d8d7e2ba2d6e64bb456f37b/Government-to-set-up-task-team-to-resolve-conflict-in-Xholobeni-20161907

19 July 2016

Government is in no rush to issue a mining license for titanium mining in Xolobeni along the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape.

That is the word from the deputy mineral resources minister, Godfrey Oliphant. He was speaking at an imbizo at Xholobeni.

The imbizo was held to address the violence that has erupted amongst the community related to the proposed mining.

Hundreds of villagers, officials and the police gathered to find a solution.

At the centre of the conflict are two groups for and against the proposed mining. The Amadiba Crisis Committee, which is opposed to the mining, says its members are being targeted.

Oliphant called for cool heads to prevail.

He called on community members to speak in one voice and stressed the importance of mining for the community.

During an open session, the imbizo nearly degenerated into chaos as the two groups openly opposed each other.

A task team will be formed to try and resolve the issues.


Mining firm pulls out of Wild Coast plan

Tony Carnie

Independent Online

19 July 2016

Durban - Four months after community leader Bazooka Radebe was gunned down in front of his son, an Australian mining company says it is bailing out from its plan to mine one of the world’s biggest undeveloped mineral sand mining ventures, at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast.

Mineral Resources Commodities (MRC), a Perth-based company headed by Mark Victor Caruso, announced yesterday that it had taken a decision to divest its majority interest in the controversial dune-mining venture because of “ongoing violence and threats to the peace and harmony of the Xolobeni community” and hoped to sell its interests at Xolobeni to a local black economic empowerment group.

The decision to sell has raised several eyebrows in the local community around who will fund the takeover, as well as the identity of the new beneficiaries if mining goes ahead.

The announcement also coincides with a high-level meeting this morning at the Xolobeni Primary School between the local community and the deputy ministers of police, mining and water.

It is understood the meeting has been requested by the Amadiba Crisis Committee to discuss continued violence and complaints against the police following the murder of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe.

Radebe, a taxi owner, community leader and chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, was a vocal opponent of the dune-mining proposal.

He was murdered in front of his son at his second home, in Bizana, in March, allegedly by two men in a stolen car posing as policemen. Four months later, though the stolen car was recovered, police have yet to announce any arrests for Radebe’s murder.

Over the past few years there have also been numerous complaints about anti-mining community members being beaten up or intimidated by groups in favour of the mining plan. They include claims that a number of residents from the Amadiba/Xolobeni area were beaten up during the Christmas holidays by local men who had been given jobs at MRC’s Tormin mine in the Western Cape. There have been complaints that schoolchildren were sjambokked by police after voicing opposition to mining.

In an announcement posted on the Australian Stock Exchange website yesterday, MRC said it had invested significant funds, technical and social resources in the Xolobeni proposal over the past 13 years.

Tension

“The company has accepted that attempts to facilitate peaceful and safe site access by environmental consultants to assess the possible environmental impacts of the Xolobeni project continues to cause undue tensions and conflict, something that the company has openly tried to avoid.

“In light of the ongoing violence and threats to the local Xolobeni community, the company accepts that the future viability of the Xolobeni project should be managed by stakeholders and organisations exclusively owned by South African people.”

After “due consideration” the company had decided to divest itself of its interest in mining Xolobeni, subject to satisfactory commercial negotiations and agreement with its other shareholder.

Accordingly the company and its South African subsidiary (MRC Resources Pty Ltd) had entered into a memorandum of agreement with its BEE partner (Keysha Investments 178 Pty Ltd) for the sale of its 56% interest in Transworld Energy and Resources, the company that owns the Xolobeni mining project. MRC said its decision to divest was “in no way a reflection of its (other) mining interests”.

A company search done yesterday indicates that there are only two active directors of Keysha Investments 178 - Pretoria-based Corporate Law Services, and Cope election candidate Mzwandile Maxwell Maraqana, who is based in Lusikisiki.

Corporate Law Services and Maraqana are also listed as active directors of the Xolobeni Empowerment Group, along with local chief Lunga Baleni, Khaliphile Baleni, Mary Baleni, Mavis Denge, Lucy Denge, Mziwakhe Dlamini, Zodwa Langazana, Christopher Ngcwele, Johnson Ngundze and Sizwe Shezi.

In a separate company search late last year, Corporate Law Services was further listed as an active director of the MRC subsidiary company Blue Bantry Bay Investments 255, along with Port Elizabeth attorney Maxwell Boqwana, Xolobeni resident Zamile Madiba Qunya, Yolisa Ntanndokazi Capa and Daluxolo Mantlana.


Victory in the campaign against mining South Africa's Wild Coast - but it's not over yet!

Rachel Lees

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2987927/victory_in_the_campaign_against_mining_south_africas_wild_coast_but_its_not_over_yet.html

21 July 2016

Campaigners have forced the biggest shareholder in a titanium mining project on south Africa's 'Wild Coast' to withdraw, reports Rachel Lees. But they now fear the project itself will continue under the auspices of local 'front' companies, while the big profits enrich the British and Australian investors that are the real masters of Africa's neo-colonial minerals boom.

In a statement released earlier this week, London-based mining company Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC) announced its disinvestment from its controversial Xolobeni project on South Africa's 'Wild Coast' to exploit the area's abundant titanium resources.

This was the culmination of a long running campaign calling on British millionaire Graham Edwards - MRCs biggest individual shareholder with 23.6% of the company's shares - to use his weight to make the company divest from Xolobeni.

Not only was the project opposed in the UK, but it was also fiercely opposed by the majority of the Amadiba community indigenous to this stretch of South Africa's Wild Coast, where the mine is planned to span 22 kilometres.

But MRC's decision to disinvest demonstrates much more than the impact of public campaigning. For instance, War on Want's recent report, aptly titled 'The New Colonialism', evidences the extent to which British companies control Africa's mineral resources: it documents 101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange as having operations in 37 Sub-Saharan African countries.

Together, these companies have control of an unfathomable $1 trillion of Africa's resources. Consequently, in both the report's headlines and MRC's activities we see the necessity of campaigning in Britain made clear too.

But the fight is not over yet!

Worryingly, the move to disinvest potentially depicts the adoption of more sordid antics by MRC to obscure the financial beneficiary chain of the Xolobeni mining project. This way of working is well established in the mining industry and evidenced most famously in the case of Marikana and mining company Lonmin.

For this reason, while the disinvestment campaign run by solidarity groups in the UK is being considered an important win - and one welcomed by the Amadiba community's legal representatives - it won't be celebrated as such until it is clear whether financial interest has been retained behind scenes by Edwards and MRC through a complex sub-contracting chain.

What is clear at present is that MRC has divested its 56% interest in Transworld Energy and Resources (TEM) - the entity which owns the Xolobeni mining project. Instead, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between MRC and its Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) partner Keysha.

It is here that the water gets muddied. Legal representatives of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (set up in 2007 to oppose the Xolobeni project), put it this way:

"Keysha was set up by MRC as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Xolobeni Empowerment Company (XolCo), a structure established by MRC. While XolCo has been described by MRC as a 'Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) company representing the Amadiba community at Xolobeni', our clients have never been consulted regarding XolCo and deny that it represents them."

What monetary compensation Keysha will be obliged to pay MRC for its interest is thus far unclear; but as Dr Andy Higginbottom of Marikana Solidarity Campaign says, "If MRC is still the ultimate beneficiary, then this new arrangement would be no more than a neo-colonial facade - where some local front men get a slice for services rendered, but the substantial profits would still end up in Perth and London."

In this vein, the campaign 'win' could in actuality shroud a move by MRC to put itself itself no longer accountable for the Xolobeni project's wrongdoings, of which there are reported to be many.

Campaigner murdered - for opposing the mine?

The Amadiba community, which has been fighting against the Xolobeni mine since the mid-2000s, has this year even seen blood shed in the battle for their land. As documented in the Ecologist in May, Sikosiphi 'Bazooka' Radebem, chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) was shot in the head eight times and brutally killed in front of his young son.

This reality of the dangers faced by land and environmental defenders was affirmed by a report released by Global Witness last month. Titled 'On Dangerous Ground', the report proclaims 2015 as being the worst year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders. The killing of Bazooka and other defenders across the world this year already show that this crisis is not abating.

The bigger picture of the impact felt by the Amadiba community was vividly demonstrated at an event in London this week (20th July 2016), hosted by a coalition of organisations (including The Gaia Foundation, London Mining Network, Frontline Defenders, Wretched of the Earth, Movimiento Jaguar Despierto, Marikana Miners Solidarity Campaign and War on Want).

The event included a screening of the documentary 'The Shore Break' a 2014 film directed by Ryley Grunenwald, as well as a Skype update on the situation from Nonhle Mbuthuma, the primary character in the documentary.

Nonhle is an ACC spokeswoman who has been in hiding for some time, moving constantly in response to death threats she has received from the pro-mining minority within her community. She described the statement by MRC as the neo-colonial trickery Dr Andy Higginbottom had described, noting that the statement implies, "they are still going to drive the car but they are sitting in the back seat."

Nonhle did however stress the need to keep campaigning in the UK - particularly in light of the fear that the campaign 'good news' potentially masks a more secretive agenda of mining companies. She explained:

"In England many people are shareholders of these mining companies. Send a message to them that if they continue to put their money into this they will regret it. They are putting their money in the water."

In response, the solidarity network here in the UK is committed to continue to apply pressure on Graham Edwards and MRC in a resolve to hold British-based mining companies to account and stop the scramble for Africa's valuable resources.

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