Xolobeni still simmers over MRC mine

110416 - Zamile Qunya head of Xolco, the empowerment company in Xolobeni is in town. Photo : Nicholas Rama

110416 - Zamile Qunya head of Xolco, the empowerment company in Xolobeni is in town. Photo : Nicholas Rama

Published Apr 15, 2016


Johannesburg - Underhand dealings, intimidation and violence are the order of the day in Xolobeni, a small community on the South Coast, where families have been divided over the establishment of a titanium mine.

Australia’s Mineral Commodities (MRC) intends to mine 9 million tons of ilmenite, used in paints, from an opencast operation on pristine sand dunes in the area.

Underlying tensions between the pro- and anti-mining groups are so complicated that even the government has been helpless in its efforts to bring an end to the escalating tensions.

Violence resulted in the killing of Amadiba Crisis Committee chairman Bazooka Radebe, who died in a hail of bullets last month.

Superstition has also reared its ugly head with the pro-mining faction blaming the Crisis Committee for spreading fear of the umamlambo, an allegation that Amadiba Crisis Committee has denied. Umamlambo – a mythical snake – is said to be resting in the belly of the earth and more likely to be disturbed through the mining process.

The tensions continue to brew unabated with allegations of superstition, bribery and extortion fuelling divisions.

The Amadiba Crisis Committee established in 2007 was opposed to the mine, saying it was detrimental to the environment.

Zamile “Madiba” Qunya, a businessman and founder of Xolco, the empowerment wing of the MRC, believed there were no prospects of economic growth. He blamed the Crisis Committee for harbouring self interests.

Qunya said mining ilmenite would bring an end to the perpetual poverty cycle among the 200 families in Xolobeni.

The mine, which is expected to employ 3 000 people during the construction phase and create 1 500 permanent jobs was being contested as the mining right application was still pending. The company’s consultations and public participation in line with the law have been hampered by violence.

Qunya said eco-tourism in Xolobeni had not succeeded and mining was likely to unlock economic opportunities.

“We have widespread poverty. People travel for 20km to the nearest clinic,” he said. “There are only 10 people with a matric. People sleep on the floor. They have no radios.”

Qunya has been accused of fuelling violence between the anti- and pro-mining groups and being on the payroll of the mining house, an allegation he has denied.

“I don’t get money from Xolobeni because the mine has not taken off yet. I have money because I am a full-time director at Tormin, a subsidiary of MRC in the Western Cape.”

Chief Lunga Baleni, who was initially against the mine, has warmed up to the development. He has been accused of being a beneficiary of a 4X4 from the mine. Baleni declined to comment.

However, Qunya confirmed that the mine had acquired a vehicle for Baleni to make it easy for him to attend to community matters.

“The company said we have to have a car to help the royal family carry out its duties,” Qunya said.

Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has appealed for calm following Radebe’s death. He said objections that had been lodged against the mining right application would be processed by a regional committee.


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