124 24-10-2012 Illegal gold rush in the outskirts of Soweto Men and women grinding and wash stones that they dig on the Randfontein road, Mathole informal settlement. Picture: TIRO RAMATLHATSE

Durban - As Durban High Court Judge Rashid Vahed ponders the legal arguments on whether or not to suspend a new mining venture at the coastal resort of Mtunzini, opinions outside the court chambers remain sharply divided.

Six traditional leaders from the North Coast issued a statement last week expressing “full support” for the mining group Tronox and its plan to dig up heavy minerals next to the northern coastal resort.

The six inkosis – Sam Mthembu (Somopho tribal authority) C Chili (Dube tribal authority) M Mkhwanazi (Mkhwanazi tribal authority), V Zulu (Ogagwini tribal authority), MT Nzuza (Nzuza tribal authority) and K Mathaba (Macambini tribal authority) – said they were directly affected by the proposed Fairbreeze mine at Mtunzini.

“We represent populations of some 45 000 people, at least 65 percent of whom are devastated by unemployment and poverty,” they said.

“They have to face the prospects of going to bed hungry on a daily basis.”

Mthembu also chairs the Tronox procurement committee which awards financial contracts to local communities employed at the company’s existing operations at Hillendale mine near Richards Bay, and its furnace and process facility near Empangeni.

“Tronox may not be able to solve all the problems we face as communities.

“They have made, however, and will continue to make a difference by providing employment and creating procurement opportunities, not only for the affected rural communities, but for the people of the region as well.”

The six traditional leaders said they believed that the recent high court interdict application against Tronox was led by a “tiny minority of individuals” opposed to mining.

“The indigenous trees are our friends.

“We know how to look after them… but we want to do that responsibly.

“Where we need to decide what should take precedence, we value human life more. We would rather save life that will continue to plant trees.”

Taking a very different view, the SOS Mtunzini campaign also issued an e-mail appeal last week for money to fund legal interdict proceedings against Tronox.

SOS Mtunzini, a joint campaign by the Mtunzini Residents’ Association and the Mtunzini Conservancy, said large parts of the Zululand region were under increasing pressure from mining groups.

At sea, prospecting companies were searching for minerals and oil, while on land, several mining companies were planning expansions to opencast mining operations.

“Such rampant unplanned expansion of mining has the potential to ruin the entire eastern seaboard of SA and reduce it to chaos,” they said.

“The potential for sustainable job-creating industries like agriculture and tourism will be lost to short-term open-cast mining projects.”

“Tronox seems to have taken the stance that it will simply start mining, and that it will continue unless someone stops it.

“If we don’t act, who will? To do this we need to raise about R300 000 to interdict Tronox and compel it to subject its proposal to a detailed planning application before the Umlalazi Municipality.”

Judgment was reserved last week after argument from Tronox and the Mtunzini Conservancy, with indications that a ruling may be issued before Friday. - The Mercury