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Opinionista

Amadiba: A Community Enraged

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Wayne Duvenage is a businessman and entrepreneur turned civil activist. Following former positions as CEO of AVIS and President of SA Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association, Duvenage has headed the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse since its inception in 2012.

Stretching for 150km from the Mtamvuna River mouth at Port Edward to the Mtata river along South Africa’s eastern coastline, lies Pondoland, home to the Pondo people for the past 1,500 years. Today, it is one of the country’s last vestiges of pristine and unspoilt coastline, known to many as the Wild Coast.

Situated in the northern area of Pondoland lies Xolobeni, an area occupied by about 300 families of the Amadiba community whose life is enriched, not by material possessions, but in the rare ability of humankind to coexist in harmony with with nature, living happily off the land and sea.

Beneath their feet and in the surrounding sand dunes, however, lies another richness in the form of a massive deposit of titanium, the content of which has set the scene of a decade-long standoff between an Australian mining company, MRC, and the Amadiba community.

Having listened to the mining company’s plans to mine the area, the local community overwhelming rejected the proposal as soon as it became clear that it was based on lies and deceit. The Amadiba people have become wizened to the history of short-term gains of temporary mining jobs, being replaced by a long-term disaster of a ruined community, with virtually all the riches from the mining transported to faraway lands and the pockets of the connected few.

To expose the hidden agenda and lack of accountability, the Amadiba Crisis Committee was formed in 2007 to champion their human rights and defy the onslaught of greed, politics and corruption that followed.

Last week, while defending the human rights of the community as the Chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe was assassinated, his life cut short by those believed to be linked to the pro-mining group. A shocking and unacceptable turn of events.

Headed by Marc Caruso, MRC is the Australian listed mining company caught up in the turmoil. It is they who have co-opted the Amadiba Chief, Lunga Baleni, through a prominent “community fixer” – Zamile Qunya, who has worked to co-opt the community to support the mining venture. And it would appear that where co-option has failed, subversive tactics have followed.

However, the Amadiba coastal residents have become resilient in the face of the strategy, having challenged the mining attempts for some time now, despite the intimidation, threats and death which goes as far back as 2003, when Mandoda Ndovela, who was a headman from the Wild Coast village of Mpindwini, was shot dead. Ndovela had become an outspoken critic of proposed Xolobeni dune mining. The police have never solved the murder or arrested anyone to date.

In September 2008, pupils at the Xolobeni Junior Secondary School were sjambokked by police after refusing to sing at an event organised by politicians to celebrate the granting of mining rights, which were later revoked.

The past year has seen the pro-mining thugs turn up the heat. In April 2015, the consultants for the mining company were refused entrance to the community and the road blockaded to prevent their access to the dunes. The Chief and his few supporters retaliated, beating the local residents with pistol butts, and firing shots in the air. A month later, more mining conflict resulted in an elderly woman being beaten with a knobkerrie and hacked with a bush knife, while shots caused another to flee from her home and hide in a river gorge with her twin babies.

It could be said that Bazooka’s tragic death was probably not unforeseen, after the community vowed to “die for their land”, following another physical attack and intimidation of the remote village of Mdatya, by pro-mining thugs in December last year. This time around, they wielded knobkerries and bush knives, breaking arms and legs as they threatened the anti-mining community to back down.

While the reign of terror continued a mother gave birth under the stars on New Year’s day at 03:00, because she was too frightened to stay in her home.

Bazooka’s death is, however, a serious and unfortunate consequence of the blood that spills when perpetual greed and desire to mine for rich ore deposits is met with resistance of a passionate and resilient people who seek only to defend their human rights.

The Amadiba Crisis Committee have stood strong and now their chairman – a stalwart for the rights of his people – has been slain.

The question is, will the loss of Bazooka Rhadebe’s life be in vain? Will the political leadership of both South Africa and even Australia heed the call to get involved and halt the madness? To call on Mr Caruso and his henchmen to cease with its incessant lobbying, long after the people have told them to cease with their unwarranted plans.

As John Clarke, the social interventionist who has worked with the Amadiba Community, once said, “Human rights come long before mining rights.” The people have spoken. They have also told the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) to stop with their plans to build a new N2 route, close to the coastline, which many believe is linked to the planned mining operation.

While the political and policing authorities contemplate and grapple with a need to act with positive conviction, Bazooka Rhadebe’s son and wife are in hospital, recovering from the ordeal, and the Amadiba Crisis Committee is hard at work to keep its challenge intact. In times like this, the support for their cause is stronger than ever before.

The time to halt the madness is now, lest Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe’s death will have been in vain. DM

The Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) can be contacted through:

  • Mzamo Dlamini 072 194 0949 or Nonhle Mbuthuma 076 359 2982.
  • Their on-line donations portal can be accessed here.
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