South Africa: Mining Activists "live in environment of fear"Published by MAC on 2019-04-19
Source: Daily Maverick (2019-04-16)
For previous report, see: Deadly silence in "Bazooka" case
Activists live in ‘environment of fear’ in mining communities
By Greg Nicolson•
16 April 2019
Mining can have considerable negative effects on communities, but
anti-mining activists take a stand at their own peril. A new report calls
When Ibutho Coal wanted to mine in Fuleni, KwaZulu-Natal, Silindile N was
one of the activists who organised a protest in April 2016. Hundreds of
people were going to be relocated and thousands may have been harmed by
the mine’s blasting vibration, dust and floodlights.
She received repeated threatening phone calls. One anonymous caller said:
“You must stop what you are doing. If you don’t stop, we will shoot you.”
Civil society organisations released a new report on Tuesday detailing how
community activists opposed to mining, like Silindile, whose surname was
withheld, face violence, intimidation, and legal and bureaucratic hurdles
while trying to express their rights.
“‘We Know Our Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s
Mining-Affected Communities” was compiled by Human Rights Watch, Centre
for Environmental Rights, groundWork, and Earthjustice. Researchers
interviewed more than 100 mining stakeholders in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo,
North West and Eastern Cape, describing a system designed to deter and
penalise opponents to mining.
It begins with Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe who was murdered in March 2016
while he was chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, which opposed
Australian company Mineral Commodities Ltd’s attempts to mine in Xolobeni,
No one has been arrested for Rhadebe’s murder and according to reports the
Amadiba Crisis Committee’s present chairperson Nonhle Mbuthuma continues
to receive threats.
Numerous studies highlight how the economic and developmental benefits
promised to mining-affected communities rarely materialise while residents
experience tangible drawbacks, including relocation, environmental damage
and health risks.
There are considerable barriers, however, to activists that oppose mining.
“In communities across South Africa, the rights of activists to peacefully
organise to protect their livelihoods and the environment from the harm of
mining are under threat,” said Centre for Environmental Rights attorney
The report, along with past research from the SA Human Rights Commission
(SAHRC) and Corruption Watch, explains how the establishment of a mine
often divides communities, sometimes with deliberate support from
government and company officials, and can lead to intimidation and
violence being meted out by those who have been promised financial
rewards. “There is division everywhere,” the report quotes an activist
from Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal. “I believe there were people who were paid
to block us from organising.”
The report explains how local governments delay or prohibit protests by
misinterpreting the Regulations of Gatherings Act by insisting a Section 4
meeting be held, even outside the 24 hours municipalities have to call
such a meeting. Before approving a protest, municipalities sometimes
require protesters to engage the mining company or get approval from a
traditional leader — all of which flouts the law.
“At the end of the day, people are angry. When no one ever responds to
their grievances, they resort to protests. It’s only then that the
municipalities react — by sending in the police,” said Robbie Mokgalaka, a
campaigner from groundWork. As municipalities wittingly or unwittingly
frustrate legitimate attempts to protest, activists embark on “illegal”
protests, which can lead to arbitrary arrests.
“Police have used violence, including tear gas and rubber bullets, to
suppress protest in mining-affected communities. These tactics have
sometimes been used without warning or justification, or where the risk of
injury to protesters is out of proportion to the threat they pose and have
occasionally caused injury or death,” reads the report.
It says a 32-year-old, referred to as Tinas M, was killed while protesting
near the Sefateng Chrome mine in Limpopo in July 2017 when police and
security guards responded to activists. The company said the protest was
violent and violated a court interdict, while protesters said it was
peaceful. The company also claimed a SAPS member shot Tinas, but IPID had
not updated his mother as of November 2018. The report said complaints of
brutality against SAPS or security companies rarely resulted in action
being taken. Mining companies also embark on strategic litigation to
silence opponents, says the report, “to censor, intimidate and silence
critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they
abandon their criticism or opposition”.
The various threats and obstacles activists face has led to an environment
of fear in communities, with some activists either reducing or stopping
their activism. “Although personal threats have not caused most of the
activists interviewed for this report from stopping their activism, most
said they are taking more precautions for their own security or the
security of their families. This is yet another cost that limits
activists’ ability to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion,
expression, association and assembly,” reads the report.
The Minerals Council South Africa, Tendele Coal, Anglo American, and
Sefateng Chrome all provided responses to the report while questions to
seven other companies went unanswered. “The Minerals Council is not aware
of any threats or attacks against community rights defenders where our
members operate,” said the industry body whose members produce 90% of the
“However, we are aware of an increased spate of protests across the
country, including mining regions. We are of the view that political
intolerance, high levels of unemployment and dissatisfaction with service
delivery are contributing factors to conflict,” the Minerals Council said.
The report was also sent to the departments of police, justice, mineral
resources, environmental affairs, energy, and co-operative governance, but
no response was received as of March 2019. Human Rights Watch, Centre for
Environmental Rights, groundWork and Earthjustice listed a wide range of
recommendations for government departments, companies and industry bodies.
They called on all the relevant government departments and agencies,
including the presidency, to condemn assaults and intimidation against
community activists and to defend activists’ local and international
rights to protest against mining. The report calls for a SAHRC
investigation into allegations against government and company officials
accused of targeting activists. It recommends the Minerals Council condemn
the attacks, provide a reporting and investigative mechanism for
complaints from activists and improve its monitoring of abuses.