South Africa

Xolobeni: Hawks take over probe into Bazooka’s slaying

By Greg Nicolson 30 March 2016

A week after the murder of Eastern Cape anti-mining activist Sokhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, the Hawks have taken over the police investigation. Activists are focusing on burying their leader, but they remain determined in their fight against mining on the Wild Coast. By GREG NICOLSON.

“People are very, very angry,” said Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) member Nonhle Mbuthuma on Monday. “All of us are still very shocked.”

A week after the killing of ACC chairman and anti-mining activist Rhadebe, his family and comrades are still processing their loss as police continue to investigate and activists against mining on the Wild Coast gain support.

Mzamo Dlamini, also an ACC activist, added on Tuesday:

“It’s bad in our community. People are very shocked. People are very terrified. Nothing much has happened apart from preparing for his funeral on Saturday.”

Rhadebe, who was 52 and a taxi owner, was a leading figure against mining in Xolobeni.

Mbuthuma said she had not yet heard any developments but said the ACC wanted to assist the police to help find justice. The group however has its doubts about the SAPS in the region.

“I don’t want to lie to you. I don’t know if they’re going to carry [out] this investigation properly,” said Mbuthuma, who has been one of the key ACC members opposing mining in the area during the decade-long fight. She features heavily in the documentary The Shore Break, which details resistance to mining in the area.

For a decade, Xolobeni has been divided over attempts by Australian mining company Mineral Commodities (MRC), which has a majority stake in Transworld Energy and Minerals Resources (TEM), trying to mine the area, and its local empowerment partner the Xolobeni Empowerment Company (Xolco), to access what the company says is the 10th largest deposit of ilmenite, source of the space-age mineral titanium, in the world.

The fight has divided families and seen regular flare-ups of violence, which activists say are attempts to intimidate them, while the mining company struggles to get access to the area. Mining proponents say they can bring infrastructure and jobs. Opponents are wary of the promises, reluctant to give up their land, and claim the mine will benefit a select few. They argue that development and jobs can come through tourism instead of mining.

The ACC believes it has reason to doubt the police. In December, Pondo queen MaSobhuza Sigcau held an imbizo on the issues of mining and violence in the area. The Mail & Guardian reported that at the event residents were vocal against mining. The night before the imbizo, police had “launched the largest operation in local memory”, said the newspaper.

The SAPS said it was a standard operation searching for firearms and drugs, but Mbuthuma claimed it furthered the perception that the cops had chosen sides in the mining battle. The raids put the community in danger and later efforts to meet with police to build relations were ignored by the local SAPS, she claimed.

The docket on Rhadebe’s murder, however, has now been handed over to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, the Hawks. “It’s a murder case and we suspect there’s an element of organised crime,” said Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi on Tuesday. He said the case is being investigated and so far there were no updates he could share.

But according to GroundUp, whose reporter met the ACC’s Mbuthuma and Dlamini at the weekend, initial reports that Rhadebe was shot outside his home are false. Mbuthuma told the publication she spoke to an investigator who said Rhadebe was at his workshop and scrapyard on Tuesday night when a hijacked white vehicle with a blue light arrived with men claiming to be police. Mbuthuma said one hijack victim saw the shooting while tied up in the back seat. Rhadebe’s son was also there. Another hijack victim was tied up in the boot, she claimed.

The ACC has said that hours before he was killed, Rhadebe called his comrades warning they were on a hit list and he was the first target. He didn’t say where he had heard the information.

Violence and intimidation have long been associated with contentions over mining in Xolobeni, but Rhadebe’s death has brought new focus to the issues. The Department of Mineral Resources is reported to have sent a team to the area to quell tensions. Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has called for calm and said an application to mine for titanium in Xolobeni is still pending, with objections raised.

After 82 civil society organisations signed a memorandum last week condemning Rhadebe’s killing, they have now written to Zwane asking him to suspend the processing of the Xolobeni mining application until the murder is investigated. The Economic Freedom Fighters also condemned the killing and said it will ask the minister to permanently withdraw MRC’s mining licences. MRC already operates at Tormin Mineral Sands in the Western Cape. The National Union of Metalworkers SA has also spoken out against the mining company.

MRC and its local partners have denied they are involved in Rhadebe’s death and say they do not support violence. Despite ongoing instances of violence, with anti-mining activists seemingly targeted, allegations of violence against those supporting the mining project are yet to be proved. But the ACC is adamant that MRC or its supporters are behind the violence and claim that arrests after nightly attacks in December prove them right. Allegedly, in an upcoming case, one of four men accused of attempted murder and robbery in December is an MRC employee in Western Cape.

For now, the ACC is focused on Saturday’s funeral. “We need to put our minds to burying Bazooka,” said Mbuthuma.

But Rhadebe’s tragic death, she said, might save more lives. “I don’t think there is any leader willing to see more bloodshed.” DM

Photo: Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe (John Clarke)

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