Transkei’s Xolobeni community sounds alarm over extractivism, absent ministers and lack of basic services
The Presidential Climate Commission met the community of Xolobeni on Tuesday, 29 March, to hear their concerns about a just transition and the climate crisis. The commission was met by a disgruntled community, tired of having development imposed on them without their input. They also pointed out that neither ministers nor the local municipality were at the meeting.
Residents of Xolobeni demanded that ministers and municipalities were present in consultations with the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) so they could be held publicly accountable for the environmental damage that had been allowed in their communities at the expense of their livelihoods.
The PCC headed to Xolobeni on Tuesday to hold a consultative meeting to hear the concerns of the community in light of the country claiming to seek a just transition from coal-powered energy.
The PCC was formed by President Cyril Ramaphosa and has been operating since December 2020. Its brief is to establish the country’s climate change response.
Xolobeni residents kicked off the meeting, in a tent with no chairs, by asking which ministers were working with the commission as they wanted to hold them accountable for the lack of social, economic and environmental development in their community. No ministers attended the meeting and neither did the municipality.
“The impression was that the government had boycotted the meeting. The so-called “stakeholders” (private business interests) were also absent. They prefer meetings behind closed doors with the government about their ‘stakes’ and tenders,” said a statement by the Amadiba Crisis Committee.
“The name (Gwede Mantashe) you have mentioned has abused the people very much on their land. That is why you hear people getting agitated at his mention,” the moderator of the meeting said as the community was up in arms at the mention of the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy.
A resident told the PCC representatives, “We wanted Gwede here so that he can speak to us. We wanted to hear him… he said he wanted to give Shell an opportunity to create jobs for us.”
He added: “N2 [the N2 toll road] is at a halt now because they are stuffing their stomachs. Who was working at N2 while they were folding their hands? How can you say you want to build a smart city, casino, N2 and mines. Where are we going to live? Are you fixing up a place for us to live? No. You don’t care about the current place we live in now… don’t play with us!”
Xolobeni has been at the forefront of the fight for environmental and sustainable rights in the community. The community won a legal battle against Australian mining company Mineral Commodities (MRC) which sought to access what is claimed to be the world’s 10th-largest deposit of ilmenite, a core titanium ore, on the Umgungundlovu land. The community is also fighting the construction of an N2 toll road proposed to run through the Wild Coast.
During the three-hour consultation, residents raised concerns that private companies and government departments such as mineral resources and energy, and Transport, have come to their community and made empty promises. They also said they had written numerous letters to community leaders, municipalities and the government stating that they needed basic services such as water, healthcare and good roads.
“They must not bring us mines. We do not want mines. They must not carry out extractivism in our oceans because that ocean gives us life. They must bring clinics, hospitals and fix the roads; they must do what we want when we want it,” said a resident who called herself Mam’Sonjica.
The residents raised concerns over their mistrust of the commission, saying the fact that it was working with the ministers who had caused havoc in their community and its environment was a red flag. Residents of Xolobeni said they would hear the PCC once they were assured that extractive activities there would not continue.
Among requests the community made to the PCC were on granting community farmers weed farming licences, the introduction of agroecology, and education on the climate crisis and farming practices, particularly for young people.
“Climate change is not in the curriculum. We are asking that it be added to the curriculum so our children know what to discuss and not be learning the education of the colonials. What they are learning is not related to us. They must learn how to plant vegetables such as butternut and amadumbe and where those come from. They must not learn only about banks, engineering etcetera. They must learn about their community and its challenges such as cows that need medical attention,” said Nonhle Mbathuma, spokesperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee.
Another member of the community said that it was the job of the community to take care of the environment because it took care of them.
“Tradition and culture do not disrupt [the climate], they go hand in hand. When we carry out our practices, we do not harm nature, we use what we have. When the government intervenes here, they harm our environment and contribute to climate change… the government must not disrupt the carrying out of our culture,” the member said.
The PCC said it had pencilled in August for a return to the community to deliver feedback after discussing their concerns with the relevant ministers. Some of the community members labelled the process of consultation as “flawed”, citing concerns over the broken telephone likely to occur as a result of the chain of communication.
Ultimately, the community of Xolobeni wanted the PCC representatives to communicate that instead of prioritising profits over its people, it merely wanted basic services and for their concerns over the climate crisis and farming alike to be addressed. Importantly, they wanted their elected ministers and municipalities that supposedly worked for them, to be present.
“Our rights must stop being abused by profit makers. Our rights are important too. We live through our oceans… but it seems our rights are superseded by profits. Australia, Shell, those things abuse our rights. If the government wants to bring jobs, they mustn’t give our resources to the private sector. The private sector does not bring job opportunities, it only creates profits for themselves… if they are a government of the people, they must work for the people,” a resident said. DM/OBP