Minister delays mine appeal decision

MINERAL Resources’ Minister Susan Shabangu has told Pondoland opponents of a titanium dune mining project that she needs another month to consider their appeal against the Xolobeni coastal dune mining project. Shabangu had been scheduled to announce this week her decision on the appeal by the Amadiba Crisis Committee, which is based on the alleged failure of the applicant mining company to properly consult on the project with either residents of the area or the king and queen of Pondoland.

Shabangu’s spokesman, Musa Zondi, did not respond directly to The Herald’s question as to the reason for the delay, but he said the department, “has asked the applicant for another 30 days”.

“(This) extension will expire on 25 April and by then a decision should have been communicated to the applicant,” he said.

Amadiba Crisis Committee spokesman Sinegugu Zukulu said the mining project “has become an ever more menacing threat to the unique biodiversity of the Wild Coast and traditional way of life of the amaMpondo”.

In this regard, the continued delay in the ruling on their appeal was having severe negative ramifications, he said.

“It is not only the mining which is on hold but the revival of eco-tourism, with all its job creation potential”.

Asked about this, Zondi said he had “no comment” to make.

Opposition to the project has been led by the Amadiba committee, which represents about 5000 people between the Mtentu and Mzamba rivers, at the heart of the area targeted by Australian firm Mineral Resource Commodities (MRC) and local subsidiary Transworld Energy and Minerals.

The committee was formed initially by the guides who used to run Amadiba Adventures. The operation, which received a presidential award in 2000 for “the most exciting community tourism initiative”, used to sustain jobs for not only these guides but also trail chefs and households through a series of villages across the area who leased out horses and supplied hospitality.

But the operation has been systematically undermined by the mining venture, destroying existing and potential future employment because of the withdrawal of tourism investors, Zukulu said.

A camp burned down, tourists were booked but then food, lighting and other essentials were not organised. At the same time, the chairman of Amadiba Adventures, Zamile Qunya, co-founded  Xolobeni Community Empowerment Company, which was named as BEE partner on the mining project.

Zukulu said the delayed decision by the minister was perpetuating the suspicion and tension on the ground in the area.

“But all this nonsense that has happened has been done in the name of mining and my hope is that once the mining chapter is closed then we can revive eco-tourism and all move forward together.”

The Amadiba Crisis Committee is partnered with Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC) environmental and public participation advocacy group which has voiced concerns ranging from the irreparable damage that will be caused to the dunes and the wetlands they supply with seep water, to the security of the pristine estuaries. SWC has emphasised the importance of the area, in terms of its position within the Pondoland centre of endemism,  with 196 plant species found there and nowhere else in the world, and as one of only two Sangoan archaeological sites in SA, featuring 300000-year-old artefacts.

The opposition groups received subsequent support from a Human Rights’ Commission report which noted a failure by the mining applicant to properly consult with the royal family or the local people, failure to address their concerns about environmental degradation and the perception that only a few would benefit from the project.

A multi-party team was then appointed and deployed by the mineral resources’ department. Released last year, the report from this team questioned whether a financial feasibility study had been done to support the applicant’s pledge to build a processing plant, which would have created much of the employment promised.

The report also questioned why a right had been granted without the completion and approval of an environmental impact assessment including the assessment of alternatives for the area like eco-tourism.

Asked yesterday about these points, Zondi said: “We are considering all relevant points, and the decision will be made accordingly.”

The minister’s new scheduled announcement date roughly co-incides with Freedom Day (April 27) and the Amadiba community is “anticipating a great celebration”, social worker John Clarke, who is representing the community, told The Herald.

If a positive ruling is got from the minister and their appeal is upheld, the committee will be looking to strengthen the already positive tourism relationship with Sun International that has been established, he said.

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