Xolobeni 'a dodgy deal'

Robert Laing

Robert Laing

The Department of Minerals and Energy seems more scared of the Sicilian descendant Caruso family which heads Australian junior miner Mineral Commodities than the Human Rights Commission, say opponents of the controversial Xolobeni mining licence.

John Clarke, a lawyer and social worker representing the Xolobeni community, said the department had behaved extremely suspiciously. It quietly issued Mineral Commodities with a mining licence on July 14 without notifying the Human Rights Commission which had accused Mineral Commodities of violating seven constitutional rights.

The department's decision to grant the licence came as a shock since opponents of mining the Wild Coast's dunes thought the warnings raised in the environmental impact assessment that Mineral Resources was required to commission from independent specialists would have been enough to scupper the plan.

By the time Clarke and others became aware that the licence had been granted, only two days out of the 30 days the public have to protest mining licences remained.

Bheki Khumalo, the department's spokesperson, said while groups opposed to mining the Wild Coast can appeal the decision, as far as the department is concerned, Mineral Commodities mining licence is a done deal.

Minister of Minerals and Energy Buyelwa Sonjica will visit Xolobeni residents on Friday in an attempt to convince them the department has made the right decision.

Khumalo said that since Mineral Commodities is listed on the Australian stock exchange, it can be relied on to be a responsible corporate citizen.

But Mineral Commodities' existing South African project, Tormin on the West Coast, is also embroiled in a squabble with its BEE partners. Mineral Commodities said in its June quarter report that it was reviewing its BEE options because its partner which helped it win the mining licence has failed to meet its contractual and funding operations.

Through these and other disputes, Mineral Commodities' managing director Mark Caruso has gained a reputation of being extremely tough and litigious.

The Carusos diversified from earth-moving into diamond mining in Sierra Leone, a business they are now selling while suing the engineering firm they hired to develop the mine.

According to the Human Rights Commission's report, tactics used to win over the Xolobeni community included: "Agents of the mining company on several occasions sought to prevent or restrict journalists from freely canvassing opinion, obtaining information and reporting on or filming community meetings."

The power required for the proposed smelters alone should have made the project a non-starter.