Durban — Communities around Melmoth in the north of KwaZulu-Natal are accused of blocking a R15-billion mining investment that would create more than 50 000 job opportunities.
The communities – who staged a protest on the R66 road linking Melmoth with Ulundi, Vryheid and Durban – were said to have refused the relocation because they wanted to guard their ancestors’ graves.
Local investment promoter Professor Musa Xulu said he believed the people who were opposed to the investment were not properly advised of the benefits that they would reap if they allowed the investment to go ahead.
Xulu, who is the founder of the Indonsa Yesizwe civic group, said the Mauritius-based mining company, Jindal Africa, had discovered huge iron ore deposits which would last 100 years in the rural areas of Melmoth.
He said it was unwise for the communities to reject the investment, adding that the communities should have demanded a stake that would better their lives for generations to come instead of rejecting the mining investment.
“I do not think the communities were properly advised on how they will benefit out of this project.
“I got information that they cited leaving their graves behind as the reason for their refusal to allow the company to invest such huge amounts of money.
“What the communities do not understand is that such an investment can better their lives and those of future generations. For me the communities stand to benefit more if they agree to move than staying with such rich minerals unused,” said Xulu.
The country’s Constitution empowers the people to demand shareholding in the company in exchange for their removal, he said. If they are removed the company was bound to build better homes than the ones they have. He added that graves are protected under the national Heritage Act.
Weighing in on the issue, Ingonyama Trust Board chairperson Inkosi Thanduyise Mzimela urged both communities and the mining company to resolve their differences to pave the way for the R15bn investment opportunities.
The chairperson was reacting to rising tensions between the mining company and the communities. Inkosi Mzimela said the company and the affected amakhosi had not informed him about the issue, but he was encouraging the parties to return to the negotiating table or to seek advice from the trust and government if they reached a deadlock.
“We appeal to the parties to find another solution since such investment comes with mutual benefits for the company and the communities. The matter has not officially been reported to the trust but we are available to intervene if the parties need our advice,” he said.
Clarifying the trust’s role in relation to the investment opportunities taking place on land under trust, the inkosi said investors and the community could engage until they agreed, but the actual business could resume on the land. He said the company had to get permission from the trust to do business on the land.
Mthonjaneni Local Municipality mayor Mbangiseni Biyela said the municipality was not involved in the dispute since the land where the iron ore was discovered was under the Ingonyama Trust. He said during the protest he had to go and meet the people since they were blocking the main road.
Jindal Africa project manager Shaitan Chouhan confirmed there were people who had stopped the consultation process. He said the initial assessment showed that 350 households would be affected by the project, so “a resettlement negotiation” was under way and the company was committed to compensating the affected people by building an improved housing infrastructure.
The company was said to have started exploration in 2011 and in 2016. After discovering the iron ore it went back to formulate a bankable business plan and was ready to inject R15bn in starting the project.
It is estimated that the annual turnover will be around R50bn a year and the mining could last for 100 years.
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