The uphill battle against mining by an impoverished Wild Coast community, which last year appeared to have been won, seems set to begin again after a local subsidiary of Australian firm Mineral Resource Commodities (MRC) applied for a prospecting licence.
The prospecting rights application lodged for the Kwanyana block of the Xolobeni area in March is being opposed by 400 members of the Amadiba community, who last week rejected the plan in a consultation process run by the company.
Xolobeni is the traditional homeland of the Amadiba people, a community under the leadership of King Sigcau and Queen MaSobhuza of Pondoland.
The Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) said in a statement that it was outraged that the community again faced a mining application even after Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu revoked Transworld Energy and Minerals’ (TEM) mining rights last year. TEM is a subsidiary of MRC.
The application “comes at a time where we were just managing to get the eco-tourism venture back on track, after Xolco members had actively worked to undermine it because its success conflicted with their ambitions to mine coastal dunes”.
Xolco is TEM’s black economic empowerment partner.
Sarah Sephton, an attorney at the Legal Resource Centre, which is representing the crisis committee, said the ACC had vigorously opposed the application verbally and would also do so in writing.
Sephton said the company had applied for prospecting rights on the same block as before, as it was “trying to cure the defects of their first attempt”.
Shabangu revoked TEM’s mining right in May last year due to outstanding environmental issues, and the company was given 90 days to provide additional information.
Andrew Lashbrook, MRC’s South African representative, said the application for rights to the Kwanyana block had been lodged in March and further documents would be submitted to the Department of Mineral Resources on Friday.
He said the company’s position had never changed. “We believe there is a sustainable way to do this project to the benefit of all stakeholders.”
Lashford said the conditional mining right at Kwanyana was based on certain environmental issues being addressed, which the company always intended to do. But before it could complete this work, an objection was lodged and the mining right was revoked.
The company was unable to comply with the outstanding issues within 90 days and after discussions with the department, opted to reapply instead.
TEM already has prospecting rights on four other blocks in Xolobeni, with Kwanyana being the fifth block. Last year prospecting rights for the other four blocks were renewed for a further three years.
Following a public consultation process last week, which was run by water and environmental consultants GCS on behalf of the company, both King Sigcau and the ACC said the process was flawed.
The king said: “We are alarmed that the traditional leaders of the affected area have not been correctly approached in terms of custom and tradition and that we are only learning about this latest application through other sources.”
He added that the Amadiba coastal residents had already convinced Shabangu to revoke the mining rights that were awarded in July 2008, when after a protracted internal review process, it was found that issues raised by the then department of environmental affairs and tourism had not been satisfactorily addressed to ensure the venture met requirements for ecological sustainability.
It was found that mining in this area was a wholly inappropriate use of the land from an economic development perspective, King Sigcau said.
The ACC said Xolobeni had ecological and environmental importance as part of the Pondoland Marine Protected Area and was one of the most important centres of plant diversity and endemism in South Africa.
It had been advised that the proposed mining would cause pollution and irreversible environmental degradation.
The spokesman for the Department of Mineral Resources was not available for comment.