OP-ED

Mining will not bring jobs to Xolobeni

By Andrew Bennie 15 January 2019

Nowethu Phakathi and Nombulelo Jula harvest sweet potatoes from their communal plot in Mahaha, Ngungu near Mbizana in Eastern Cape. Like many other residents of the area they are worried that if plans to mine titanium on their land go ahead they would lose their lands from which they grow their food to feed their families. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/ Mukurukuru Media

Through farming, many Amadiba coastal residents are not just surviving, but flourishing. Together with greater potential for integration with ecological integrity, this is the kind of work that should be supported in a climate change world. But the Amadiba are advancing agriculture and eco-tourism with virtually no state support or infrastructure.

At a gala dinner hosted by the Eastern Cape Business Chamber in December 2018, the Eastern Cape MEC for Finance, Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Oscar Mabuyane, lamented the loss of revenue in the Eastern Cape, which he blamed partly on “missed opportunities” to create jobs, prompting people to seek economic opportunities elsewhere.

He said this had cost the province R13-billion in addition to the loss of R5-billion in equitable share from the national government. For him, one of these missed opportunities was the halting of the mining plans at Xolobeni as a result of the High Court victory and he confirmed his determination to see the mining proceed in order to “create jobs”.

In late November, the Amadiba coastal communities living on the northernmost part of the spectacular Wild Coast won their right to say “No” to mining on their land. Rural communities have been suffering an intensification of post-apartheid dispossession as the mining industry and the state turn their eyes to the former homelands, where 90% of new mining applications are located.

Mabuyane welcomed the judgment but made clear his determination to see the mining go ahead. While the court judgment emphasised customary law processes to determine consent, Mabuyane immediately called for a referendum. It appears a referendum would be pointless – out of 72 households in the planned mining tenement area, 68 signed up as applicants in the court case – but he also repeated that mining will create jobs:

We are saying that tourism and mining can co-exist if people of that area can agree and mining will bring job opportunities, investments, social infrastructure and other benefits.”

Similarly, the Minister of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe, responded sullenly to the court judgment and his department has taken it on appeal. Despite the court ruling and the pending legal appeal process, Mantashe is now attempting to arrange another meeting in Xolobeni on 16 January to discuss issues of “economic development” in the area. The ACC, however, has responded that Mantashe “is not welcomed by the community” and see his visit as part of the Department of Mineral Resources’ “campaign for mining in Xolobeni”. Mantashe’s consistent line has been that the area is desperately poor and in need of jobs and development – and that mining creates jobs and development.

But Amadiba coastal residents have consistently made clear their positive views on job creation and development. Why, then, would they oppose mining? The consistent public claims about the job creation and developmental benefits of mining in Xolobeni have never been backed up by any research or evidence. Rather, the research that has been done has indicated quite the opposite: that mining will not bring more benefits to those living in Amadiba than other options such as supporting local tourism, agriculture and ecological protection.

When Australian MRC’s local subsidiary, TEM, first applied for a mining right in 2007, it contracted Groundwater Consulting Services (GCS) to conduct the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the mine. The report found that the loss of farmland would most likely represent a significant impact of the mining and that this loss of farmland would not be compensated for by the creation of jobs in the mine. It was clear that because of the skills requirements of the mine, “the potential direct employment opportunities for the local community are likely to be limited”.

The environmental management plan (EMP), detailing how the mining company would deal with the environmental and social impacts identified in the EIA, reinforced this in surprisingly clear terms:

The community who will be most severely impacted by the proposed development are unlikely to benefit significantly from the permanent employment opportunities associated with the mine.”

To repeat: this statement is from a report commissioned by the mining company to support its application for a right to mine. Despite this, company representatives continued to publicly punt the job and development opportunities that the mine would create, with many in the state following suit.

In 2005 Grant Thornton was contracted by the national and provincial departments of environmental affairs and tourism to conduct a study for the programme they were running for the conservation and sustainable development of the Wild Coast. It found that the benefits of tourism outweighed those of mining, in terms of the number of jobs created and its longevity – mining would last only 22 years, tourism as long as the sea, the environment and the people exist. The report found in its base case scenario (more conservative than its “high road” one) that concerted and planned investment in ecologically and socially appropriate tourism would create 281 direct employment opportunities and contribute R28-million of investment into the area in the first year alone, increasing to R50-million a year by year 22. This was compared to the purported 200 jobs over the 22-year life cycle of the mine, which the EIA and EMP reports confirmed would not go to locals.

When Grant Thornton conducted its report, the community-run Amadiba Adventures was still operating successfully. Whereas the national average for occupancy rates in 2005 was 45% for lodges and 15% for campsites and hiking trails, Amadiba Adventures was running its trails and accommodation at a whopping 68% annual occupancy rate. In 2004 it won the Presidential Award for best community tourism enterprise in the country, but by 2007 it was barely operational.

Those who worked in Amadiba Adventures say that it was deliberately sabotaged by a few individuals who sought to benefit from mining to destroy viable alternatives to mining. Indeed, the key local mining kingpin, Zamile Qunya, who is a director at MRC’s controversial open cast mine on the West Coast, and who signed all of TEM’s affidavits opposing the community’s right to give “full consent” in the court case, was once the CEO of Amadiba Adventures. He cites its failure as an illustration of how tourism has not benefited the people of the area. Locals point to his instrumental role in its demise.

State officials, including Oscar Mabuyane, have repeatedly stated that mining and tourism can co-exist. However, they have not explained why tourists would travel to the Amadiba area to hike, ride horses, cycle and swim (in the tailings dams?) alongside a dusty, noisy and visually unappealing mining operation. Nor have they presented documented (counterintuitive) evidence on the co-thriving of mining and tourism.

Instead, Minister Mantashe repeatedly cites the titanium mining in Richards Bay as a positive example of how tourism and mining can co-exist. He seems comically unaware that it is precisely the visit by members of the Amadiba coastal community to see the mining in Richards Bay that was a key factor in cementing their resistance to any mining happening on their own land, so horrified were they by what they saw.

Alternatives to mining are already on display. In relation to the rest of South Africa, the Amadiba are somewhat of a historical anomaly, having never been dispossessed of their land due largely to their resistance, through the Pondo Revolt, to apartheid government attempts to impose “betterment” planning and undemocratic Bantu Authorities. This means that agriculture continues to be a key source of community reproduction, sustaining a close link to the land. It also means that research has found very low levels of household food insecurity in the Amadiba area, extraordinary in comparison to other rural, Black African communities, which typically suffer the highest levels of food insecurity in the country.

My own empirical research in Amadiba also sharply disputes any notions of general deprivation. Instead, agricultural production has been expanding in recent years, as markets to informal traders have been found in Durban, and farmers sell truckloads of sweet potatoes and madumbes there every week, despite their remoteness and the terrible state of roads. From my calculations with traders procuring from the area, at least R90,000 a week from the sale of this produce is flowing into one village alone, Sigidi, which amounts to somewhere in the region of R4.5-million a year.

Some young people have returned to farm and take advantage of the income opportunities, the chance to leave behind marginal employment in the cities, and to be at home. Farmers proudly show new buildings in their homesteads constructed with the proceeds of farming. Parents happily proclaim that they were able to send their children to university from their farming income. Few of them explain their farming in terms of having a job but describe it in terms of something that allows them to work and to sustain themselves and their families. Through farming, many Amadiba coastal residents are not just surviving but flourishing.

Together with greater potential for integration with ecological integrity, this is the kind of work that should be supported in a climate change world. In the context of the climate crisis and the government’s official commitments to reducing emissions and supporting a more ecologically-centred development path, enthusiastic support from the state for such community-level initiative might have been expected. But the Amadiba are advancing agriculture and eco-tourism with virtually no state support or infrastructure.

Instead of looking for ways to support what community members are doing, the Mbizana Local Municipality altered its Spatial Development Framework (SDF) to accommodate mining. Municipal Spatial Development Frameworks are developed in terms of the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA) of 2013 and their purpose is to consolidate various development plans and programmes from different government sectors into a locally relevant framework for development in the municipality.

As a result of the programme conducted with the national and provincial environmental departments (and for which the Grant Thornton report provided important planning information), the 2009 SDF had designated the proposed mining area for conservation, tourism and agriculture. In 2015 TEM submitted its new mining right application. At the same time, the Mbizana Local Municipality adopted an SDF that amended its 2009 SDF. It now designated a portion of the same area that had been designated for conservation and tourism as a sand mining area and stated that mining was already taking place there.

Lawyers have argued that the document and its adoption was illegal because it had placed false information in a legal document (stating that titanium mining was already taking place in the area) and because there had been no public consultations on it, thus undermining communities’ democratic right to participate in local government planning. The SDF’s promotion of mining on the Wild Coast also contradicts other state planning documents such as the 2013 Wild Coast Environmental Management Plan and the provincial environmental department’s Spatial and Environmental Management Guidelines for the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape Province, which asserts that there are “no areas on the Wild Coast where large-scale mining could take place in an environmentally acceptable manner”.

However, those such as MEC Mabuyane continue to see mining as the panacea to the Eastern Cape’s developmental problems when it is difficult to sustain the notion that the constant repetition of the jobs and development mantra is really in the interests of those living near the proposed mine. It betrays an ecologically and historically outdated conception of development, and the mantra has come to resemble something of an ideology which, as Antonio Gramsci theorised in depth, often plays a key role in masking the narrow interests of a particular class, and making them appear as the interests of all in a society.

Direct material interests can be traced through the complicated machinations over the ownership of the proposed mining project that have little to do with the well-being of the community itself and more to do with collusion between the state, foreign mining capital, domestic economic interests, and some quarters of traditional leadership.

If jobs and development are what state officials are really after, their relatively simple answers are staring them in the face. However, genuine state support would require a commitment to people-centred forms of development, democratic deliberation and confidence in the ability of people like the Amadiba to decide what is best for them. These are seemingly in short supply in the state. But the Amadiba coastal community continues with its struggle to advance their alternatives to mining. DM

Andrew Bennie is a doctoral researcher on agrarian and food issues in South Africa and a member of Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC). His research includes the intersections of local agriculture and resistance to mining in Amadiba.

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