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'Mine, mine go away from our land' - KZN community

July 24, 2016. GREAT JOY: Intshayobuka Cultural Group dance in Makhasaneni, a village near Melmoth in KwaZulu-Natal. The community celebrated after Indian company Jindal Mining left PHOTOS: THULANI MBELE. © Sowetan
July 24, 2016. GREAT JOY: Intshayobuka Cultural Group dance in Makhasaneni, a village near Melmoth in KwaZulu-Natal. The community celebrated after Indian company Jindal Mining left PHOTOS: THULANI MBELE. © Sowetan

On a rainy and cold afternoon, scores of people broke into song in a packed school hall.

"Mine go away

This is no place for you

I have only land for ploughing

This is the land of the graves of my grandparents

Just go away from here mine ..."

Their voices echoed through the beautiful hills of Makhasaneni near Melmoth in KwaZulu-Natal as they sang in Zulu.

It was a momentous event that was being celebrated in this village, whose rolling hills are dotted with tree plantations and well-carved fields where for generations locals have farmed avocados, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, maize and reared cattle and goats.

"Mining will take away our grazing land. What are we going to eat if that happens? What are we going to drink if it destroys our water sources," Mbhekiseni Mavuso said to roars of approval from the gathered.

It was a mixed crowd of old and young, men and women covered in coats and blankets and woollen hats to keep away the chill.

"Mining is not development. It is a mass eviction process. Here in Makhasaneni we have fought against relocation, chopping of trees and medicinal plants. We want the environment to remain the way it has always been," Mavuso said to loud cheers.

Makhasaneni residents have been embroiled in a long struggle to stop mining in their area.

Jindal Africa, a company with headquarters in India, has been prospecting in the area with the aim of mining iron ore since 2013.

However, this was met with fierce opposition. Recently, Jindal withdrew its machinery and personnel, signalling a victory for the people of Makhasaneni.

On Sunday, the community burnt impepho (incense) to thank the ancestors for their victory and sacrificed an ox and baked ujeqe (dumplings) to celebrate.

Silver-haired Mehlomakhulu Simelane, 82, smiled as he chewed on a piece of meat. "We are a community of farmers. The mine did not consult with us. We just woke up one day and saw big machines and people working here," said Simelane, secretary of the forum set up to oppose the mining.

Communities should be given the right to consent

Mining communities should be given "continuous free, prior and informed consent" as well as the "right to say no to mining" principle.

This is contained in the Bench Marks Foundation's reaction to the Mineral Resources Department's revised Mining Charter gazetted in April.

Rural communities in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, Free State, North West and KwaZulu-Natal have been embroiled in battles against mining houses.

In some areas these have led to divisions in the community, violent protests and mysterious murders of opponents of mining.

In one of the latest incidents, Sowetan reported that fed-up North West villagers chased away Samancor Chrome officials, accusing them of failing to consult and disrespecting their views and demands.

Mantserre, Rustenburg, residents said the company wanted to give them R10 per ton produced in exchange for use of their land, and would only agree if they were given a 40% stake.

The foundation said although the revised charter is aimed at reducing Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment ownership, it does not adequately address the drastic imbalance between local ownership and foreign ownership, and it ignores the negative impact mining has on communities.

Bench Marks is unaware of any other country where local ownership of enterprises is restricted to 26% and foreign ownership by law is 74%. "Anglo American will claim to be South African, yet they re-listed on the London Stock Exchange after 1994, effectively making them a British entity. The local ownership percentage should be increased.

"The community still loses its land to the mine, which they will never recover. It therefore loses its fields for cultivation and grazing. We feel that communities should be compensated [for] the value of all future harvests from that land, with inflation calculated into the equation," the foundation said.

"In addition, the community should be compensated a percentage of the value of the mineral underground."

The foundation also noted "many communities do not trust the chiefs who often side with the mine".

The Presidency said R18-billion has been dedicated to ongoing work in distressed mining communities.

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