The communities of Matzikama municipality in the northernmost reaches of South Africa's west coast held a verbal sparring match with Mining Minister Gwede Mantashe last week over mining company Mineral Sands Resources' (MSR's) plans to expand mining in the region.
MSR is a South African subsidiary of Australia's Mineral Commodities Resources (MCR), the same company that is trying to mine titanium on the Wild Coast at Xolobeni, where the community sought legal action last year in a landmark case on their #RightToSayNO to mining.
Mantashe addressed a meeting of staff and management of MSR's Tormin mine on Friday 8 February at the local Uitkyk Lutzville Community Hall. This incensed the local communities of Koekenaap and Lutzville who claim there has been no community consultation by MSR, which has been mining in the area since about 2016 and are now seeking permission to mine up to ten additional beaches.
'We were promised jobs and development in the community, but instead they brought workers from outside.'
Davine Cloete, Chairperson of the West Coast Food Sovereignty and Solidarity Forum, who said she had booked the local hall for the community to register its protest against Mantashe's talks with MSR was enraged to find the company had been given permission to hold its meeting with the Minister ahead of the community meeting, at the very same hall, "which is our hall, the community hall," she said.
Her indignation goes much deeper than the company's use of the community hall for its meeting. It reflects a simmering anger in the Matzikama municipality at MSR's failure to consult with the local community or engage in development efforts in the region.
"They had promised they would [offer jobs to] young people and seasonal workers," said Cloete, but there was no sign of that and the youth were turning to drugs and living in what she referred to as an ongoing cycle of poverty.
The company is said to have brought labour in from outside, including the controversial Xolobeni area in the Eastern Cape where the parent company is determined to set up mining operations in the face of steep opposition from that community who demand the right to determine land usage in their area.
Cloete said locals stood outside their hall while the Minister addressed the company and they had tried to stop the Minister from leaving after the meeting, demanding that he talk to them as well. The local ANC was brought in to convince the community to allow the Minister to first address MSR and visit the mine as planned. A large police presence in the area held the protesters back from blocking the gate.
The community demanded that he come back to "talk to us, as he has promised," Cloete said, referring to earlier public consultations on the Mining Charter in which calls went out for the government to engage with mining communities.
Mantashe later returned to spend some time in the hall fielding questions from the locals, before leaving to visit another mine in the area.
Cloete said afterwards that it is clear that the Minister is unable to help the community in its efforts to reach some kind of mutually beneficial agreement with MSR. She added the community has been trying to engage with the mining company and the South African government on the Tormin mine since 2015, with no success. "We were promised jobs and development in the community, but instead they brought workers from outside," she said.
"The social and labour plans were not made available to us, and what we've heard about it, does not seem like it will benefit the community in any substantial way. But, in the face of unscrupulous mining corporates and an apathetic government, our communities are standing together and will not allow the division that they are trying to create.
"By coming to meet with MSR instead of the affected communities, Minister Mantashe is sending a clear message, once again, that government is not concerned with what the people want or need on the ground. As it is, the government has not played any meaningful role in resolving our issues with MSR," the West Coast Food Sovereignty and Solidarity Forum said in an earlier statement before the protest action.
The impact of living in a mining area has seriously affected the fishing community who report that they are no longer able to find any fish on the coastline as growing sand piles at local mine dumps affect fishing as well as agricultural activities. There is also concern about the radiation levels caused by the mining, and the fact that this is not being monitored. "We can't say exactly how dangerous this is for our people or our crops. Yet, these and numerous other environmental violations, continue to be ignored," said Cloete.
Vainola Makan, Energy Justice Coordinator at the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute (SAFCEI) said in a statement, "we note, with dismay, that there is a trend in government to promote the interest of foreign mining companies at the expense of South African citizens' right to dignity, through meaningful public participation - which is enshrined in our Constitution."
Said Cloete, "MSR cannot continue to ignore our suffering and just go on with business as usual. Minister Mantashe should come to the community, to find out whether the mine is doing right by us."
Similarities between the difficulties experienced Xolobeni and the West Coast were discussed at the Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI), where it was said by Nonhle Mbuthuma of the Amadiba Crisis Committee of Xolobeni that when the mining companies want licenses, "they make all kinds of promises of upliftment opportunities. However, in reality, not only do they not deliver on their promises, but they end up destroying the lives of whole communities.
"The people in those areas are now worse off than they were before the mines came. They are living in poverty now. They can't farm the land, nor can they find any fish in the ocean. This is why we continue to fight for our #RightToSayNO to mining."
She added, "if there is any chance for a mining project to work, government must put human rights first. This means that they have to work together with the people, and not treat us like slaves who have no say in what happens to us. What government is doing now is taking the power from the people and giving it to the mining companies.
"Furthermore, it is sad for me that President Ramaphosa says that mining is in a sunrise phase, when so many people are dying as a result of mining. Think about the thousands of people dying from silicosis and other diseases, or those communities who had every natural resource stripped from them. No, mining is in a sunset phase, even if corporates and politicians do not want to admit it," Mbuthuma said at the AMI.