Gwede Mantashe
Gwede Mantashe

Community members in the conflicted Wild Coast area of Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape remain divided, and the minister of mineral resources’ proposal for a two-year moratorium on titanium mining rights in the area has not eased tension.

Residents who favour mining say the freeze provided a chance for the community to discuss the issues and reach consensus. But those against mining questioned the motive for the moratorium.

One of the largest heavy metal deposits in the world lies in the coastal sand dunes at Xolobeni. But environmental degradation and the potential displacement of residents from homes and grazing land are concerns if it is exploited.

This is the second moratorium on mining in the area — the first one expires in December.

Resisting residents said they were worried the moratorium favoured Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources, whose prospecting rights might expire. They said it may also buy time for mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe should he need to appeal against an imminent judgment on whether mining rights can be awarded.

Zamile “Madiba” Qunya, founder of Transworld’s empowerment partner Xolco, said the moratorium was a positive step and provided time for the divided community to discuss the issues.

The mining is opposed by the Amadiba Crisis Committee, which brought the legal action against the Department of Mineral Resources.

Competing interests about mining has led to several deaths, including Amadiba Committee chairman Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, killed in 2016.

“The government is supposed to put a stop to the unrest,” said community member Sinegugu Zukulu. “The moratorium means the government does not mind that this is dividing and causing the conflict; and destroying the social fabric in this community.”

The committee has challenged the Minister of Mineral Resources in court over mining rights at Xolobenil. Judgment was reserved.

The committee’s spokeswoman Nonhle Mbuthuma said the moratorium seemed intended to create room for Mantashe to appeal against the forthcoming judgment.

The moratorium, in effect, froze both the mining rights application process and expiration of the prospecting licence.

The Department of Mineral Resources said it could not preempt the outcome of the court process and Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources did not have a prospecting right.

“While the application by TEM was accepted by the department and was being processed, the first gazetted moratorium effectively stopped the clock on all actions to be taken by the department in further processing the application,” said its spokesman Solomon Phetla.