[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Wild Coast anti-mining update, by Azad Essa
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Fri Sep 26 06:17:14 BST 2008
Commentary September 2008
Livelihoods will be ruined
Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC) campaign, a loose coalition of
organisations continue to lobby government to overturn the decision to
permit open cast dune mining in the Pondoland Wild Coast region. The SWC
argue that not only was the decision making process flawed but mining
the region would have grave consequences for the ecology of the region.
But the campaign continues to face a number of obstacles, from
stakeholders with different agendas to accusations of the campaign being
''a white elitist concern'' , to approving authorities lacking
sufficient clout to make a difference, Azad Essa speaks to the SWC
communications officer, Val Payn to get a better understanding of the issue
The SWC is a collection of organizations and individuals opposing the
proposed open cast mining of the Wild Coast. Can you briefly outline
the issue at hand?
SWC is a registered Section 21 NGO. However, we collaborate and
co-operate with, and lend support too and are supported by, a large
number of organisations and individuals who are opposed to the mining,
including the communities along the Wild Coast who will be directly
affected by the mining.
Is it a local consortium?
Under the Xoobeni Sands Dune Mining proposal, Australian Mining Company,
Mineral Resources Commodities LTD (MRC) and its local subsidiary,
Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources and Black Economic Empowerment
(BEE) associate Xolco ( 26% shareholding) have ambitions to mine some
346 million tons of minerals in a lease area known as the Xolobeni
Mineral Sands. Mining over the entire area is estimated to last for 22
years. To date they have been given authority to mine, by DME , the
centrally placed Kwanyana block, one of the four blocks demarcated for
mining over an approximately 22km stretch of coastal dune in the heart
of the Pondoland Centre of Plant Endemism.
Is it an issue that a foreign mining company together with a BEE partner
has the contract, or is it the mining per se?
In SWC opinion both of these are issues.
The mining is not part of the original Wild Coast SDI proposal for this
region, which had proposed community based tourism as the appropriate
driver of development. Also, studies undertaken as part of the Wild
Coast Conservation and Sustainable Development Plan showed that, in the
long term, the development of community based eco-tourism and sutainable
livelihoods projects would bring far greater socio -economic benefits to
a broader range of people, than the mining. That is, most of the
benefits that mining brings are unlikely to be benefits to people who
live in the area, and any benefits, such as jobs, will be of short
duration for the 22 years lifespan of the mine. On the other hand the
social and environmental upheaval that the mining is likely to create
for those who occupy the land earmarked for mining is likely to be
immense. It is questionable whether any so called 'benefits' will
outweigh these negative impacts. That a foreign mining company will be
the greatest beneficiary of this proposal simply compounds the issue.
Key Areas of Concern
Fundamental human rights enshrined in the South African Constitution
have been violated by the mining company and its supporters.
The public participation process for the conduct of the EIA was grossly
biased in failing to ensure those residents most affected by the mining
proposal were capacitated to participate meaningfully.
Relevant authorities have not been in full compliance with the relevant
statutes: the Mineral and Petroleum Resources' Development Act (MPDRA),
the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), and the Interim
Protection of Indigenous Land Rights Act (IPILRA).
Major contradictions exist between DEAT and DME interests. For example,
the DEAT report has advised that ''The mining is a short-term economic
activity with long-term negative impacts whereas the ecotourism in the
area has an unlimited life span,'' concluding with a strong
recommendation that the mining license should not be awarded, given
The mining venture will destroy the local resource base upon which
community based sustainable development is dependent.
The mining venture is in conflict with several of South Africa's agreed
international obligations to sustainably conserve and manage our
biodiversity and ensure benefit-sharing from such use, including under
the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Suggested mitigations of environmental impacts are not viable or
possible (given the available data and information on which they are
based), which will therefore result in the destruction of a unique,
internationally recognized centre of endemism - with the risk that this
will push a number of threatened (red data) endemic species to
extinction due to their restricted ranges within the centre of endemism.
MINERALS and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica admitted a few days back
that the consultation process with the local community was flawed. Has
there been any indication to suggest the mining permit will be revoked?
The Minister has indicated that she will not execute the mining right on
31 October in light of the appeal, but will hold an appeal hearing in
Is this a battle being fought by concerned citizens or has the issue
been taken up by traditional leadership and/or local government in the
Traditional leadership in the region, right up to the level of the King
and Queen is very concerned about the issue, and has sought legal
advice. Local Wild Coast communities have also elected a representative
delegation from local community leaders, the Amadiba Crisis Committee
(ACC), to voice opposition to the mining agenda. With the support of the
Legal Resources Centre in Grahamstown, the ACC have lodged an appeal
against the DME decision. They have also sought the advice of human
rights lawyer Richard Spoor, in order to protect community interests.
As far as SWC are aware, local government has been very reserved about
the issue, with the exception of Mayoress Capa of O.R Tambo District,
who is a vocal supporter of the mining.
Who are the winners and losers of this deal? If a Social Impact
Assessment (SIA) is completed, and a sustainable industry is assured
with long-term jobs, will this be acceptable?
Unfortunately the way an SIA is conducted in terms of the Mineral and
Petroleum Resources development Act (MPRDA), this seems to leave little
room for democratic consultation processes. If one is talking of
democratic development processes as being driven by a community having a
say in the way that development unfolds, then the processes outlined in
the MPRDA leave much to be desired.
Under MPRDA processes, an SIA is simply a way to 'mitigate' any
undesirable social effects that might be caused by the mining. It does
not raise the 'grassroots' issue of whether the mining is the best
development option for affected communities in the first place, but
merely imposes a 'solution' on community after the decision to mine has
already been made. The power of the community to thus determine what
type of development would be in their best interest is totally
undermined. An SIA under MPRDA processes does not allow the option to
prevent the mining should the social impacts be deemed unreasonable, but
merely seeks to alleviate these. But the means by which they are
'alleviated' are at the discretion of the mining company, which
basically sets the rule book.
The EIA indicates that only about 80 jobs for unskilled workers would be
created by the mining. The rest, about 200 jobs, would be for skilled
and semi -skilled labour. As the population of the region is largely
illiterate and unskilled, the benefits of jobs for local populations is
negligible. On the other hand, many families that are dependent upon
subsistence agriculture would be deprived of their means of livelihood
for the duration of the mining.
Some critics have labeled this an elite 'white' concern for the
environment when there are poor communities desperate for jobs. How did
'race' get tangled into this issue?
The issue of race seems to have been raised by BEE supporters of the
mining agenda, such as the Chair of Xolco (the BEE partner), Madiba
Qunya, as well as by various politicians who are in favour of the mining
proposal, such as Minister Sonjica and Mayoress Capa.
If Eco-tourism is the more logical and sustainable industry for the
region, why is it proving so hard to convince the necessary authorities?
I am not sure that it is so much a case of convincing the necessary
authorities, as of different rules applying to different authorities,
and of different authorities having different conflicting agenda's. The
development of tourism, under DEAT, has to fulfill the requirements of
Environmental Impact Assessment's (EIAs) which fall under NEMA, as well
as comply with LED's. These are more strident in their conditions, and
thus take more time to comply with in order to ensure that development
is indeed 'sustainable', than the DME requirements to get a mining
license under MPRDA. The approval for mining is thus easier to come by,
as it is not conditional on the project being put to the scrutiny of an
EIA. The EIA process under MPRDA is merely a 'benchmark' from which a
mining company has to indicate that it will comply to address
'mitigations'; it does not necessarily judge the effectiveness of stated
'mitigations' or the broader socio-economic impacts of the proposal. In
this case the project also seems to have been rushed through.
The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) have voiced
their disapproval of the mining, but do not seem to have the
'legislative 'teeth' to prevent it under current policies at this stage.
The SWC lobbys for "ecologically sensitive economic solutions for the
Wild Coast region". What are these solutions if economic development is
to take place?
Any 'sustainable' solutions for development would have to achieve a
balance between economic, social and environmental considerations. The
Wild Coast Conservation and Sustainable Development Plan has already
outlined a process that would allow leeway for development in an
'ecologically sensitive' manner, but this seems to have seen little action.
Whether this is due to government indifference, government 'bungling',
or government incapacity is a matter of debate.
Where to from here? If the mining goes ahead in October, how does the
SWC plan on tackling it thereon?
SWC are preparing to take the matter to court of lodged appeals fail.
However, in this we would be lead by the wishes of those Wild Coast
communities who will be most directly affected by the mining.
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