Imagine that platinum was discovered under your house in Houghton. How would it be if the mineral resources minister polled the residents of nearby Hillbrow and Yeoville about whether mining should proceed on your land? That, essentially, is what Gwede Mantashe proposes to do in Xolobeni on the Wild Coast. He wants to ask unemployed people from surrounding villages whether they would like the jobs promised — but seldom delivered — by mining. He will then make his decision based on “the will of the majority”. That includes those directly affected, of course. But they will be easily outvoted by people whose land rights are not affected, who will blame the people of Xolobeni for holding back their “development”.

The Xolobeni villagers argue that since it is only their homes, their fields and their grazing land that will be directly affected, they should be the ones consulted, not those living nearby. This view has been upheld by two important recent court judgments. In its Octobe...

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