Mining, money and murder: the deadly struggle to protect South Africa’s Wild Coast

Hal Rhoades, 12th May 2016, source: Ecologist


Nonhle Mbuthuma of Amadiba Crisis Committee shows the red sand at Kwanyana Beach near Xolobeni that is at the centre of the dispute. Photo: Loyiso Mpalantshane via Sustaining the Wild Coast.

The pristine landscape of South Africa’s Wild Coast is under threat from mining, writes Hal Rhoades, and the communities standing up to defend the land are facing deadly consequences: harassment, threats, physical assault and murder. Attacks on mine opponents have taken four lives so far and many others have been injured. But the opposition is growing and gaining international support.

In a major escalation of the violence facing mining opponents on the Wild Coast, on the 22nd March 2016 Sikosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Radebe, Chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, was shot in the head eight times and killed in front of his young son.

A jewel in South Africa’s ecological crown, the Wild Coast stretches along the nation’s Eastern Cape from the Mtamvuna River in the north to the Great Kei River in the south.

The region is one of South Africa’s last remaining wildernesses, a land of jagged coastline, sandy bays and ancient forests. It is also the ancestral home of the indigenous Xhosa people.

Famous for its natural beauty, tourism and being the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, today the Wild Coast’s reputation is being darkened by the violence associated with mining operations seeking to exploit its rolling dunes.

Since the mid-2000s, Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC) and subsidiary Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources (TEM) have been attempting to mine thousands of tonnes of Ilmenite, Rutile and Zircon from the Wild Coast’s metal-rich sands along a 22-kilometre strip of northern Pondoland, known as Xolobeni.

Standing in the way of MRC’s plans are the indigenous Amadiba community, the majority of whom are vociferously opposed to the mine.


Despite MRC’s best-laid plans, active operations at the area earmarked for mining are yet to start due to sustained resistance from the Amadiba community.

Over the past decade, self-organised mass mobilisations of hundreds of Amadiba community members have physically blocked MRC’s attempts to drill in Xolobeni. Local people have also taken their protests to government level, stating in no uncertain terms that MRC does not have their Free Prior and Informed Consent to mine anywhere in their ancestral territory.

Sinegugu Zukulu, a Wild Coast resident and Director of local non-profit organisation Sustaining the Wild Coast, says the majority of the Amadiba community oppose MRC’s proposed mine because of the impacts it will have on the livelihoods and environment in the area.

“People see the mine as threatening their land security”, he says. “It will take away grazing and cropland away from the community, it will take away fishing rights from estuaries, it will take away access to other resources harvested from estuaries due to pollution created by dust from the mine. Mining will disturb hundreds of ancestral graves in the land earmarked for mining and sacred sites on the targeted land are to be destroyed.”

Zukulu’s concerns are backed up by a 2014 report from South Africa’s Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism. This found that “surrounding communities are unanimous in their opposition to the mine as it would require moving communities away from the area, destroying their livelihoods in the process, and potentially causing irreparable damage to the surrounding environment.”

However, the prospect of these damages has not convinced everyone to oppose the mine. Whilst the majority’s resistance has been successful in blocking the progress of the Xolobeni project, their efforts to protect land and life have exposed them to harassment, threats, physical assault and murder.

Divide and conquer

According to Ryley Grunenwald, director of The Shore Break, a film that explores the struggle over the Amadiba community’s future, says MRC’s presence in the area has caused deep and increasingly violent social division between the small minority who support the mine and the majority who do not:

“MRC’s local partners, XOLCO, are a minority group who will benefit from the mining and are hell bent to override the majority, who call XOLCO ‘the crooks of the village’. For more than a year there have been violent attacks, night raids and assaults on anti-mining community members.”

XOLCO, which stands for the Xolobeni empowerment company, is one of two community empowerment groups set up by MRC in the Xolobeni area. The other, Blue Bantry, has a 50% shareholding in Mineral Sands Resources (Pty) Ltd, which owns the Tormin Mineral Sands project in the Western Cape, and therefore benefits from MRC’s operations.

Zukulu says MRC has intentionally divided the community, targeting leaders in an attempt to weaken community resistance to the mine: “The mining company has co-opted a traditional leader- our Chief – and as a result he may now not resolve the conflict as he is an applicant as well.”

Chief Lunga Baleni, who MRC claims to have consulted over permission to mine in Xolobeni, a traditional leader of the Amadiba People, is a director of XOLCO. Both Baleni and Zamile Qunya, an MRC employee and director of Blue Bantry, are reported to have helped bail out individuals who have attacked anti-mining members of the Amadiba community and to have taken part in attacks themselves.

Since MRC’s arrival on the Wild Coast, opponents of the mine say such attacks have taken four lives and that many others have been injured, creating a climate of fear in the area.

“People are now leaving in fear of being attacked. We have had babies being born in the bush as people sleep there in fear of being attacked”, says Zukulu.

Video: The Shore Break documentary trailer (May 2015) from Ryley Grunenwald onVimeo.

‘You cannot have development without blood’

In what campaigners say is an escalation of the violence facing mining opponents on the Wild Coast, on the 22nd March 2016 Sikosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Radebe was shot in the head eight times and killed in front of his young son.

Up until his death, Mr Radebe was Chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), a group formed in 2007 to oppose MRC’s Xolobeni project and claim the environmental rights of the Amadiba community.

Hours before his death, Radebe called fellow ACC member Nonhle Mbuthumba to check on her safety. He told her that he had heard about a ‘hit-list’ that included his name, hers and that of another ACC member, Mzamo Dlamini.

The perpetrators of Radebe’s murder, who posed as police officers on their approach to his home, remain at large.

In a statement released after Radebe’s death, MRC denied any responsibility for violence against opponents of its operations. Despite the testimony of local people and findings by the Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism this statement also dismissed claims that the majority of local people are opposed to the Xolobeni mine.

MRC has consistently denied playing any role in the conflict that has occurred since by its arrival on the Wild Coast and insists it does not support violence. However, the company has been heavily criticised over its engagement with local communities and for comments made by company employees that have been interpreted as condoning violence against mining opponents at two of its South African mines.

In an email sent to local stakeholder’s at the company’s Tormin mine on South Africa’s Western Cape and obtained by South Africa’s Sunday Times, MRC’s Executive Chairman Mark Caruso is reported to have threatened to “rain down vengeance” on those who opposed the mine:

“From time to time I have sought the Bible for understanding and perhaps I can direct you to Ezekiel 25.17. ‘And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger, those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee’.”

In relation to the Xolobeni project, The Bench Marks Foundation that Mark Caruso’s younger brother and business partner, Patrick, has made similarly disturbing comments.

The group write that at a 2007 community meeting following the murder of community activist Scorpion Dimane, Patrick Caruso responded to the bloodshed that had occurred since MRC’s arrival by saying:

“Well, there is always blood where there are these types of projects … in my experience you cannot have development without blood.”

Protests, petitions and British billionaires

The murder of Bazooka Radebe has intensified international advocacy efforts in support of the Amadiba Crisis Committee in recent weeks, with campaigners exposing and applying pressure to MRC’s connections to the UK and Australia.

In London campaigners from several UK-based organisations gathered on the 5th May to call on British property magnate and mining investor Graham Edwards to help put a stop to violence and killings associated with MRC’s Xolobeni mine.

Leaflets handed out to passers by campaigners highlighted the fact that, as the sole owner and director of AU Mining Limited, Edwards – who doubles as chief executive of UK property giant Telereal Trillium – holds 96 million shares in MRC, amounting to an estimated 23.6% of the company.

Protestors dropped a banner proclaiming “No Mining Amadibaland” from a walkway, read statements from Amadiba community leaders and filmed messages of solidarity outside the central London offices of Edwards’ investment firm Telereal Trillium.

Ahead of MRC’s Annual General Meeting in Australia on 25th of May, the campaigners urged Mr Edwards to listen to the wishes of the majority of the Amadiba community and use his influence within MRC to encourage the company to abandon its conflict-ridden interest in Xolobeni.

Speaking at the protest, Dr Andrew Higginbottom said that if Edwards’ fails to influence MRC to abandon Xolobeni, he should divest and save his reputation from being sullied by association with MRC:

“MRC should respect the wishes of the Amadiba community and walk away. Edwards and his family are the beneficiaries of this mining … he has a moral responsibiilty for MRC’s conduct.”

Last September Edwards (or by another account his wife barrister Georgina Black) bought a luxury property on Sydney’s prestigious Rose Bay waterfront, ‘Indah’, for a reported AU$27 million (see photo).

Another future for Amadibaland

As well as bearing witness to the pain and anger of the Amadiba Community in central London last week, protestors carried with them the hopes of the Amadiba People. These were most succinctly summed up by a placard that read “Graham Edwards, MRC, Hands-Off. Xolobeni is for Farming and Tourism”.

Those who oppose the mine, like the members of the ACC, have an alternative vision for the future of their community, based on sustainable eco-tourism and traditional small-scale agriculture, says Sandy Heather of non-profit organization Sustaining the Wild Coast

“Small-scale community-based eco-tourism and related livelihoods projects – village-based accommodation, hiking trails, school leadership trails- have the potential to provide decent work for approximately 200 people indefinitely whilst respecting ecological integrity”, says Heather.

“The mining will provide approximately 150 low level jobs, which may still be an overstatement, for 22 years, whilst destroying the entire ecological integrity of the area as well as the social, cultural and livelihood fabric.”

Nonhle Mbuthumba, a forthright member of the ACC, is confident that those who oppose MRC’s mine will be victorious. In a statement of solidarity sent to campaigners in London, she wrote:

“There will be no mining on the Wild Coast. There will be life, there will be peace and there will be development supported by the people.”

Action: Protest at MRC’s annual shareholders meeting in Subiaco, Western Australia, on 25th May 2016.

Sign the AVAAZ petition to ask Graham Edwards to divest from MRC.