Legend tells of a rich man who became so stingy that he died of hunger with money in his pocket. The man would wake up each day and admire his treasures, resisting the temptation to spare a penny for his sustenance, until he succumbed to starvation. His heirs lived to enjoy the inheritance for generations. This story resembles that of the Xolobeni community on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape, in the impoverished Mbizana local municipality. The community is embroiled in a decade-long dispute over the mining of titanium on the land they’ve inherited from their forebears. Like the stingy man, the community seems to naively sit on a pot of gold while surrounded by a sea of poverty and underdevelopment. Yet it has remained steadfast, opting to live off the land rather than succumb to the lure of underground riches as it fears the possible contamination of water, soil, air and pasture that is common to mining operations.

Investors and outsiders may view the conduct of the Xoloben...

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