MAC/20: Mines and Communities

The Gold Coast

Published by MAC on 2002-08-14

The Gold Coast

Johannesburg Mail and Guardian

14 August 2002

Port Elizabeth - The Eastern Cape provincial government has granted an Australian company a permit to prospect for minerals in a botanical "hotspot" on the Wild Coast, the Eastern Province Herald reported on Tuesday.

The Xolobeni Mineral Sands proposed project site lies at the heart of the Wild Coast spatial development initiative (SDI), which hinges on ecotourism, the report claimed.

It stated that the European Union, which has allocated R84-million for the development of this aspect of the SDI, had indicated that this funding would be curtailed if mining went ahead, and that Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Valli Moosa has warned, "the SDI will fail to meet its objectives".

The report further claims that in endorsement of the permit - which is valid until July 2004 -- the provincial mineral and energy department emphasised that only prospecting was being allowed and that local people had the right to know the value of minerals in their area so they could balance this against the value of ecotourism.

The newspaper said documentation in its possession indicated the value of the minerals was high and the company was clearly proceeding with the intention that it was going to mine it.

It said the latest permit grant in fact extended a "deed of variation" initiated in August last year, and that Australian company, Mineral Commodities, had already spent R1,39-million on probing the site -- which it called "world class".

The company is searching for titanium (a hard, light metal used in a variety of industries) and zircon (a semiprecious stone used in the jewellery trade), and has confirmed a R18-million investment in the project by the South African Export Development Forum.

The newspaper reported that the project site covered 22km of pristine coastline between the Mazamba and Mtentu estuaries in northern Transkei.

It extends 1,5km inland and includes a highly threatened coastal dune forest and a number of plants that occur in the Pondoland region and nowhere else in the world.

It is also valuable in cultural terms, with several Stone Age and Iron Age archaeological sites having been identified and forms part of the proposed Pondoland Marine Protected Area, which has never been declared.

The Amadiba Tribal Authority has capitalised on these natural assets with a successful hiking and horse-trailing ecotourism venture, which it manages.

Other members of the community use the area for subsistence farming and the Xolabani Tribal Authority entered into the agreement which facilitated the probe by the mining company.

Wildlife and Environment Society conservation director Cathy Kay said that although the authorities and the company insisted that only "profiling" was under way, the intention was clear.

"Judging by the money that is going into the project and the statements that have been issued, they clearly believe mining is a very attractive option," Kay said.

Kay said Moosa had called on the national mineral and energy affairs department, in a letter written on May 8 last year, for the permit to be withdrawn.

The minister had warned of the EU's "unequivocal concern" and of its position that it would have no interest in continuing with its support for ecotourism as long as the mining option persisted.

"He said there would be very little likelihood of investment in ecotourism if this happened and that the SDI would by definition fail to meet its objective." Kay said.

Kay said the granting of the new prospecting permit had raised the spectre of mining and development controversy at St Lucia and the danger that "paradise will be turned into a parking lot".

"We have in the Amadiba tribal authority a community of poor people who are implementing grassroots sustainable development -- exactly what is being called for by government. But now this venture, and others like it, is threatened."

Kay said the society would continue monitoring the project to ensure that rules of transparency were adhered to and that a proper environmental impact assessment was completed.

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