It has been nearly 20 years since Rio Tinto retired with a bloody nose after trying to process some of the world's tallest coastal forest dunes into toothpaste and other consumer goods. In the late 1980s, through subsidiary company Richards Bay Minerals (RBM), Rio Tinto sought permission to mine titanium, ilmenite and other heavy minerals from the coastal dunes along the eastern shores of Lake St Lucia - one of Africa's largest estuarine lakes and oldest game reserves. The company wanted access to mineral sands that are used to manufacture anything from paint to cosmetics, ceramic tiles, welding rods and lightweight aviation parts. But after one of the most heated environmental battles in South African history, Nelson Mandela's newly elected government sent RBM packing in 1996, opting instead to promote ecotourism and to designate this wild landscape as a Unesco World Heritage Site, now known as the iSimangaliso (Place of Wonder) Wetland Park. Two decades down the line, a shadow has...

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