Pretoria - Community leaders in Kwambonambi in rural northern KwaZulu-Natal insist they will not accept relocation to pave the way for a proposed open-cast anthracite coal mine.
Elders say a cloud has hung over them since news broke that iButho Coal wants to establish the 14,615ha Fuleni anthracite coal mine on the western boundary of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, the country's oldest nature reserve.
It was proclaimed in 1895.
On Tuesday, one of a series of meetings was held under a thorn tree at the entrance to the Ndimande homestead.
Bhekukwenzelwa Ndimande, a community leader in the rural setting, is unwavering in his opposition to the colliery.
“They are proposing to mine right on our grazing fields. We are suffering already from the existence of mines in the neighbouring communities. Our houses are cracking,” he said.
“We work closely with the nature reserve to ensure that no poachers roam into their conservation. Now that they want to relocate us, they leave the animals vulnerable.”
Phila Ndimande agrees with his father Bhekukwenzelwa's argument.
“As it is, we are losing our livestock rapidly from mysterious diseases which we think are related to mining in this area. I have lost 18 head of cattle since June last year.
“There is blasting from the mines which are nearby. Our water resources for the cattle are polluted. Last weekend, I saw this dead bull on the banks of the Umfolozi River,” Phila said, showing pictures of the dead animal on his cellphone.
Community leaders do not know where they would be relocated if the mining company gets its way.
The community's gripe with the mine is based on the risk of water, air, noise, and environmental pollution to humans and animals in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi sanctuary.
Another community leader, Thulebona Mapumulo, says people are feeling insecure and anxious.
“We are going to meet at the chief's place next week. He wants everyone to attend, those in favour and those against the mine. We think the mine wants to divide our community before they start mining,” Mapumulo said.
Mining-Affected Communities United in Action (Macua), a non-governmental organisation that represents people who live next to mines, believes the proposed mine will destroy the community.
According to the organisation, four villages will be affected.
Macua said the mine owners had told them 120 people would be moved.
“These people here will lose their livelihoods. They are a self-sustaining community from the land. They will lose their grazing land, their forefathers' graves, and they are losing their cattle already,” KwaZulu-Natal Macua co-ordinator Sfiso Dladla said.
“The community is facing a generational threat. iBhuto coal is proposing to operate for around 35 years, but that effect will last for a lifetime. We really hope that they do not get the mining licence because it will destabilise this community.”
He says in neighbouring areas, where mining is already taking place, people feel they have been short-changed by mining companies.
“Not far from here, the Somkhele community has been destabilised since the Somkhele mine began operating in 2008. There has been no peace since then.
“Our role is to raise awareness in the community,” Dladla said.
Global Environmental Trust co-ordinator, Sheila Berry, says a campaign called “Save our Umfolozi” has been set up to stop the proposed mine.
“Mining is one of the most damaging practices and South Africa has such a bad record. One of our objections to the mine is that a World Bank study found that African countries which build their economies on mining remain unequal. The richer get richer and the poor remain poor,” said Berry.
“Are we prepared to destroy a sacred place that has immense value globally for coal that will go to China and India? People across the world are strongly opposed and horrified why there is even such a consideration.”
Roger Porter, former head of conservation planning at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, said government faces a dilemma regarding proposed mines in human and animal habitats.
“One should understand that government has to ensure that the country's resources earn foreign income. The fact that the mines export this high-quality anthracite coal to countries like China is favourable to the economy and improves trade relations,” said Porter.
“The fundamental problem is that the department of mineral resources is both referee and player in such matters. It has to promote mining and has to ensure that it plays according to the law.”
International campaign network Avaaz wrote a letter, dated June 10, to Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi urging him to save Hluhluwe-iMfolozi.
According to the letter the proposed mine will not only increase the risk of poaching in the endangered rhino sanctuary, but risks polluting the rivers feeding the UNESCO World Heritage-listed iSimangaliso wetlands.
An online petition on the Avaaz website has been signed by more than 47,000 people opposing the open-cast mine.
Mineral resources department spokeswoman Ayanda Shezi said a report on the application for the Fuleni mine was still pending.
“The application was accepted by the department on the 27th January 2014. This application is still undergoing the normal environmental impact assessment (EIA) and environmental management plan report (EMPR) consultation process and the applicant is still required to submit EIA/EMPR with results of their public consultation process,” said Shezi.
“It is at this point that the department will assess the results of consultations and if there are any objections, those will then be forwarded to the regional mining development and environmental committee for advice to the minister regarding the application.”
The reports were required in terms of section 39 of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.
Senior coal campaign manager at environmental group groundWork, Robby Mokgalaka, said the safety of communities was often not given priority when mining licences were granted.
“Kids are the most susceptible people in several communities we are working with. I think in the future, some communities will have to live with masks on due to the pollution levels from mines,” Mokgalaka said.
“The communities where mining operations are currently being held do not benefit. Their only benefit is noise from the blasting, exploitation and health complications. The top-grade coal will be exported.”
According to Wikipedia, the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park now has the largest population of white rhino in the world. - Sapa