When John GI Clarke found out he was on a hit list of anti-mining activists, it was Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe who intervened - and saved his life. Now, the social worker is determined to fight to ensure that justice for the slain community activist is achieved.
“In a sense, I owe him my own life,” Clarke, a theologian said, this week, of the assassinated chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, which had resisted proposed open cast titanium mining at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast by a subsidiary of Australian mining firm, Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC).
“He protected me when I found out I was on the original hit list. He was effective in successfully intervening and defusing the situation, to make sure nothing happened to me. I wouldn’t be here today if he wasn’t there for me. I still have my life, and I will make damn sure I redouble his efforts that justice is achieved.”
On Tuesday night, two unknown attackers, impersonating police officers, shot dead the activist from Dtatya village in Amadiba, in front of his 15-year-old son, at his home.
He was shot eight times.
Rhadebe had led the committee, with “extraordinary courage” and “conviction”, since it had been formed a decade ago to oppose the awarding of mining rights for the controversial Xolobeni mineral sands to MRC Ltd. He was also strongly opposed to Sanral’s N2 Wild Coast freeway shortcut, said Clarke.
Locals have fought the mining bid on the grounds that it would displace more than 200 households that have lived off their ancestral land for generations, and destroy the unique biodiversity of the Pondoland Wild Coast, which is rich in endemic plant life.
“For the past 10 years, the Amadiba community has been pleading with authorities to recognise their land rights and environmental rights that trump mining rights,” said Clarke, who was hired by the committee as a social worker. “It’s unconstitutional for the government to try and impose mining ambitions of a foreign mining company; at the expense of poor rural people who rely on their social solidarity as their primary source of resilience and security.”
Long before Rhadebe’s death, there had been a reign of terror by “pro-mining thugs”, he said. More than 82 organisations, including the Centre for Environmental Rights, Legal Resources Centre, Corruption Watch, Freedom Under Law, and Lawyers for Human Rights, said in a statement this week that they were “shocked by this brazen act of retribution”.
“There has been a long and well-documented history of conflict around this proposed development, not least because of the inability or unwillingness of the Minister and Department of Mineral Resources to intervene and listen to the concerns of affected people,” read their statement.
A mining right was awarded to the firm in 2008, but was suspended and later withdrawn in 2011 after the residents of the area lodged an appeal. Last year, MRC’s local subsidiary filed a new application for a mining right but members of the Umgungundlovu community interdicted the Minister of Mineral Resources from awarding the right until copies of the application were made available to the community for consultation.
Last month, hundreds of Amadiba residents gathered to forbid the mining company from accessing their ancestral land and conducting an environmental impact assessment (EIA). “Why should we allow them to access our land to do an EIA?” said local conservationist and committee member, Sinegugu Zukulu. “This is a equivalent to the rape of our land and of our rights. But they are still saying they want to go ahead and do the EIA.”
Zukulu said of his colleague’s death: “There is absolutely no way you can prepare for something like this. You never know when it is going to hit. But the positive side is for the country and the world over to see what we have faced all along - that the government is allowing this mining company to continue to apply to mine here, and that it’s doing a great disservice to our community.
“We have long been engaging the government to say this must be brought to an end because it is causing conflict in the community, so to have a government department driving this so-called development is insane.”
In a statement, the crisis committee said that their “beloved Bazooka” made the ultimate sacrifice “defending our ancestral land of Amadiba on the Wild Coast”.
“After a year of threats and attacks, we’ve been waiting for something like this to happen; ever since the shootings in Xolobeni in May last year and the Christmas shootings in Mdatya village. MRC and all the criminals in high positions who are eager to cut their piece of our land and fill their pockets with blood money shall know this.”
The committee promised that the Amadiba coastal community “will not be intimidated into submission”.
Clarke said that, while Rhadebe’s fearful nickname sounded intimidatory, he was “funny” and “naive”. “He didn’t know a Bazooka was a weapon. People said he played soccer just like a Brazilian soccer player (who’s called Bazooka). He used his bold wit and astonishing frankness to shoot through the defences of those intent on mining ancestral lands.”
While the police have launched an investigation, MRC told The Guardian that it denied any role in the murder, stating that it did not engage in activities that incited violence.
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