Durban - A community leader opposed to dune mining near the Wild Coast Sun Casino has been murdered in front of his family following a series of violent attacks on anti-mining activists in the area.
Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe was gunned down outside his home in Mdatya village in the Xolobeni area, just south of Port Edward, on Tuesday night.
The killers allegedly posed as policemen and shot Rhadebe eight times before driving off in a white Polo sedan with a blue light fitted to the roof.
Rhadebe was chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, a community group that has been resisting attempts by an Australian-owned mining company to extract heavy mineral sands such as zircon, rutile and titanium along the scenic Wild Coast region between the Mtentu and Mzamba rivers.
A group of more than 80 civil society groups issued a joint statement on Wednesday night calling for speedy arrests and prosecution of Rhadebe’s killers.
“We demand protection for all members of the Amadiba Crisis Committee and their families ... We will not be bullied and intend to speak out even more strongly than before,” they said.
There have been several reports of killings, attacks and intimidation of the Amadiba community dating from at least 2008, allegedly at the behest of community members allied to the Perth-based mining company Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), its local subsidiary Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources (TEM) and the Xolobeni Empowerment Company (Xolco).
MRC states on its website that Xolobeni has the 10th-largest heavy mineral deposit in the world and could serve as “the catalyst for social transformation of one of South Africa’s poorest communities”.
Earlier this week, however, Rhadebe became the latest victim of nearly a decade of violent divisions in the community over plans to dredge-mine communal land in the Xolobeni area.
Early in 2008, Samson Dimane, an outspoken critic of the mining, died in mysterious circumstances. Several grade 7, 8 and 9 pupils at Xolobeni Junior Secondary School were allegedly sjambokked by police in September 2008 for voicing opposition to mining on their land.
A local headman, Zikhali Mngcwabe, 71, died the same year after being stabbed in the neck.
Last year, further conflict erupted when mining supporters allegedly attacked residents of the Xolobeni area, including 61-year-old pensioner Msaidilose Ndovela, who was taken to hospital with bush knife wounds. In May, lawyers representing the Amadiba community obtained an interim interdict by agreement in the high court in Grahamstown, restraining six men from assaulting or intimidating Amadiba residents or taking firearms to meetings.
Nevertheless, over last Christmas and new year several new cases of intimidation and attacks were reported, with Amadiba headwoman Cynthia Baleni and her children having to sleep in the bush after unidentified men approached her homestead late at night.
According to an affidavit sent to police in February by Amadiba Crisis Committee member Nonhle Mbuthuma, five residents were attacked with knobkieries or bush knives on December 29.
Mbuthuma said she was concerned that the Amidiba community could no longer rely on the SAPS to protect them against attacks by thugs. She expressed concern that instead of arresting the attackers, police chose to search the homesteads of anti-mining leaders and supporters.
Responding to queries from The Mercury yesterday, Eastern Cape police spokesman Lieutenant Khaya Tonjeni confirmed that police were investigating a charge of murder and that several bullet cartridges had been recovered.
He said the Mount Ayliff cluster commander, Brigadier Mthuthuzeli Mtukushe, was urging anyone with information to telephone the investigating offficer, W/O Sibusiso Mshiywa, at 082 442 0732.
Regarding Mbuthuma’s concerns about the apparent inability of police to protect Amadiba residents, Tonjeni said her allegations had been noted.
“The SAPS always encourages open engagement with members of the community with regard to the services rendered by the members. If any member of the community is not satisfied with the service from SAPS members, the individual can contact the Independent Police Investigation Directorate.”
MRC executive chairman Mark Caruso could not be reached in Australia last night to comment on the latest violence in the proposed mining area.
The Mercury was also unable to reach Zamile Madiba Qunya, a vocal supporter of the mining bid, for his views on recent developments.
Qunya was the first respondent in the court interdict application in May 2015.
Richard Spoor, an attorney representing the Amadiba residents, said: “The mining application has had an appalling effect on this community. It has led to awful conflicts, even pitting families against each other. People are sleeping in the bush at night to escape attacks.
“The community should not have to keep enduring this situation. The latest attack could well result in more serious cases of conflict, violence and retribution. Development in this area has been frozen for almost a decade and a solution has to be found to break this deadlock before it gets any worse.”