Unity is Strength for South African Community Affected by Mining

The South African Export Development Fund, which is established as a joint initiative by the South African Department of Trade and Industries and Absa Bank, has invested in the development of a titanium mine project in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The Australian mine company MRC is in charge.

By Mzamo Dlamini

As South African civil society, we are trying to make sure that the rights of people are respected when development projects take place.

We will fight against the entities, such as companies and the government, because they violate the rights of the people. Even when civil society is operating within the laws of this country, the government will always cooperate with international development companies. We face an issue with lack of funding and when we have to go to the courts to make sure that the government is doing the right thing there is not enough money for trial expenses. It is our experience, that the government will never support civil society and will always be a problem instead of a solution for us. In the ideal situation, the government is supposed to balance the issues but we see that the government will always be on the capitalist side.

Instead of the government listening to the people and civil society, the government is pushing to make sure that there is support for the company. The government doesn’t care about what happens to the people. Civil society is being blacklisted and pressured as if we are being unrealistic and are stopping development and we are given names. That is the kind of situation under which civil society in the development sector is operating within.

The situation for development human rights defenders (HRDs) has worsened within the last year. After our chairperson was assassinated in March, the government came as if they were sympathizing with us but they just pretended.

At the same time the Minister said that the assassination had nothing to do with the activism of Rhadebe in a media conference in Cape Town. For this reason, our trust in the government worsened. We are not friends. We can see that the government always supports the mines and the foreign companies.

A great power within civil society in South Africa is the media. However, now we see a situation where the media is being controlled and strict laws are being introduced to restrict freedom of the press. This is another way of limiting the power of civil society. The government will always make sure that the media is on the defensive and accuses the media for teaming up with people who do not want improvement in South Africa. The media is accused of making propaganda against the government and must, therefore, make do everything they cannot to be seen as against the government.

Mzamo Dlamini, Amadiba Crisis Committee, Photo by CIVICUS

It is difficult to tell right now whether the situation will improve in the next year but I am hopeful. This is the year in which we will really be talking about elections. It will be after local elections and preparations for national elections. Normally, when there are elections, people in different parties always team up with civil society to expose some violations. However, once everything is settled down then the government might take a different direction. In South Africa there will always be some restrictions put to limit the power of CS because the government wants to industrialize the country and put industries everywhere. In this process, many people are affected and the government doesn’t like when these voices speak up so restrictions are made to ensure that develop can be done without hindrance.

When it comes to the development that we want, we have not received any substantial support from the government or financial institutions. We have been trying to reach out but it has not really worked. We even spoke with one of the high authorities in the government but that has not resulted in anything tangible yet.

There is always risk involved with the work we do, so it is impossible to work without any fear because you become a target and you can get killed.

The government will just try to defend this institution and these companies when we are targeted. The constitution does guarantees the freedom of expression but there is always risk involved when we speak up. Another way to target us is to isolate us. It’s a known here that if you are against the mine you should never even ask the municipality for a job because they will never employ you but all the people who support the mine will get a job. So in order to make sure that we feel desperate, the government isolates us.

There is a law amendment proposed concerning the control of the land close to the sea along the coast, which will make it difficult for the mining companies to come into the area. The traditional chiefs have been bribed by the mine companies to oppose the law and there have been lots of actions attempting to keep us out of the process. It has been difficult to challenge, but lawyers have been very active to try to make sure that we are able to take part in the process and to provide our perspective as well.

At the site where the mine is supposed to take place, we wanted to put in a lodge but we have faced challenges from the government, as they pretend like we have said nothing. Even when consultants were involved to help us, the government decided to chase them away. The government did this by delaying and delaying them until their time of funding ran out, which meant that those activities had no result. This process has been going on for years and, even though we go to the municipality because they have authority to sign before the funding comes through, the government will block it. The consultants we tried to bring in have been getting frustrated so now we are trying to mobilize a political party but we are not sure if it will work.

There has been violence against the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC). People have been beaten, shot, assassinated and poisoned because of opposing the mining development. Our chairperson was murdered and we know from other relatives who hear what is going to happen that I am on the hit list.

It’s normally a general knowledge that you will be killed because of your participation in the mining development. I am still alive but I am working knowing that I am on the hit list. For now, we have funding to pay for the guards who go with us everywhere we go. I always have two guards following me. The funding for the guards ends in October and then there will be nothing. I am hoping I will survive.

The police will from time to time say that we will have to tell them if we have a meeting. But we never follow that instruction. We just meet anyway. The chief in the community has tried to close community halls and tried to ban our meetings but this has not been put into a law. Our local chief has also been very strong in trying to block any meeting by closing the venues where we want to meet and talk. But we have fought back by making noise about it because we did not allow that our meetings were blocked.

I would like to say to other communities in similar situations that unity is strength. If you are united you always win. Because there is great unity here, it is not so difficult to work with the people. But if you have people who tend to fight for their rights and at the same time take opportunities presented from the company taking your land, then you end up in between and unable to being vocal because you have some deals with these people. It is very dangerous to have deals with your enemy because they tend to trap you. Many unjust things happened against us but we did not resort to violence so it is difficult for the government to imprison us. This has worked for us. We always keep the law on our side.

People outside of South Africa can help us by making noise and putting pressure on the government. We know that this pressure works.

Because of the pressure by CIVICUS, Frontline Defenders and other organizations, the Minister of Police is coming to us to listen to us for the first time. After the solidarity trough noise and letters from other countries, we saw that it worked because the Minister started panicking. Now the government wants to have a big meeting with us.

It is also very important for our partners to try to understand what we would like to do. In our case, it is important to make sure that the community is not discouraged. You cannot be blocking development without supporting the communities. I would also really encourage the organizations to get somebody to visit the area so they have visual experience. Some organizations might think we are unreasonable when we apply for certain things but for anyone who visits our area they think we ask for too little.

The Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) runs a campaign to oppose the titanium mining on the ancestral land of communities in the pristine Eastern Cape Province in South Africa by the Australian mine company MRC.

Human Rights Defender Sikhosiphi Rhadebe founded ACC in 2007, as the opencast mining will cause dangers to the local community such as respiratory problems and contamination and draining of the few water resources in the areas, as well as, forceful displacement without compensation. The goal of the campaign is that the wishes of the community must be respected and the mining business must be transparent. On 22 March 2016, two assailants assassinated Rhadebe by shooting him eight times in the head in his home.

IAP is a human and environmental rights organization that works with communities, civil society and social movements to change how today’s development is done.

IAP is a human and environmental rights organization that works with communities, civil society and social movements to change how today’s development is done.

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