Gwede Mantashe. Picture: SOWETAN
Gwede Mantashe. Picture: SOWETAN

An independent survey will be undertaken to determine whether mining can go ahead in the conflict-hit area of Xolobeni, mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe announced on Wednesday.

The survey is in line with one of the outcomes of the North Gauteng High Court judgment in 2018, which called for thorough consultation with the Xolobeni community prior to any granting of a mining right, Mantashe said in a statement.

The announcement followed his visit to the Eastern Cape area on Wednesday. A consultation with the community turned to chaos with police reportedly using stun grenades to disperse the crowd.

Xolobeni residents have been in fierce dispute over the potential mining of the titanium-rich dunes, by an Australian company, Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources. Many are concerned the activity will result in displacement from their homes and environmental degradation.

In November, the high court ruled that the minister had no lawful authority to grant a mining right to the company, unless “full and informed” consent had been obtained from the surrounding Umgungundlovu community.

“On the basis of the outcomes of the survey, we will then take a firm decision on the way forward,” Mantashe said. “If the community says no, there will be no mining. If the community says yes, mining will proceed.”

Mantashe has, however, filed an application for leave to appeal the high court judgment, his spokesperson, Nathi Shabangu, confirmed. 

Richard Spoor, legal representative for the residents opposed to Transworld’s bid to mine in Xolobeni, described the survey as “bizarre”, saying, “We are battling to understand why he is so persistent when it is clear the application for this mining right is so fatally flawed.”

Spoor questioned the purpose of the survey as it is not the minister’s responsibility to obtain consent from the community but rather that of Transworld as the mining right applicant.

“We’ve told the minister it’s not a good idea and that it’s based on a very flawed understanding of this judgment. It’s not going to work, it’s not going to help,” Spoor said. “This effort of his to drive this application on behalf of the Australian company is quite inappropriate.”

In 2016, Australian-listed Mineral Commodities — Transworld’s  parent company — announced its intention to divest from Transworld, although this appears not to have happened.

Spoor said further interference and probing would be likely to cause further conflict and strife within the community, where a number of activists have been killed over the past decade.

The survey would be “destructive and unhelpful”, Spoor warned, adding that his clients would not oppose the minister’s leave for appeal, as the judgment had huge implications for Xolobeni and other communities, so it deserved to be tested.

But the matter would not be resolved easily Spoor said. “Our view is there is easily another five years of litigation ahead.”

Mantashe said the survey would commence in the next few weeks.

steynl@businesslive.co.za