Xolobeni residents to vote on mining

Gwede Mantashe visited Xolobeni amid tight security to address a meeting.
Gwede Mantashe visited Xolobeni amid tight security to address a meeting.
Image: Moeletsi Mabe

Mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe announced in the Eastern Cape yesterday that government will "soon" commission a referendum to be conducted in Xolobeni to ascertain whether the majority of residents are for or against mining in the area.

The meeting, just like previous gatherings, ended in chaos with the police firing stun grenades to disperse the crowd.

After Mantashe left the meeting, police and traffic officers could be seen kicking and manhandling one of the people who attended. They were also searched by the police.

The meeting, at the Xolobeni sports grounds, was attended by more than 1,000 people from various villages in the Amadiba administrative area in the mining belt of Mbizana, who braved the wet weather.

Yesterday was the third attempt by Mantashe to engage with the Xolobeni community on mining and economic development prospects in the area despite volatility in the Eastern Cape village.

Speaking amid some interruptions from an anti-mining group, Mantashe, who said he had "invited myself to the meeting", managed to speak and finish his speech where he told the gathering that he was there following a court judgment and to start interactions with the communities.

A bullish Mantashe said as a minister nobody could limit his movement and ban him or prevent him from doing his ministerial work.

This is after angry anti-mining residents warned Mantashe against going to Xolobeni last month. "They could only do so when they have [a] court interdict," he said.

The community has been at loggerheads with Mantashe's department while waging a 15-year-long battle, led by the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), against the issuing of a mining licence to Australian-based Mineral Resource Commodities's South African subsidiary, Transworld Energy and Minerals.

In November, the Pretoria high court ruled that in terms of the interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act, the minister of mineral resources may not grant mining rights without the consent of the community and the people directly affected by that mining right.

Mantashe is appealing this ruling.

He said he was against parts of the high court judgment, not its entirety.

"We are doing exactly what the judgment has asked us to do - thorough engagement with the community of Xolobeni."

Mantashe said there will be a series of engagements with residents.

"As part of strengthening the engagement with the people of Xolobeni, we will be having a survey, have a referendum to find the majority stance on the planned mining.

"If the majority of people are saying no to mining, we will not grant any mining licence. We just hope the people of Xolobeni will support that and co-operate for the success of the process," he added.

One of the speakers, Simlindile Matshelezi, who introduced himself as an ACC member, lashed out at the organisation - saying that it was operated and controlled remotely by outsiders.

"The ACC has long time lost the ball and is no longer controlled by villagers but by people from outside," Matshelezi said.

"We are destabilised by white people who are not interested in the development of Xolobeni."

The ACC denied that Matshelezi was their member, saying he was used to discredit the organisation.

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