Opinionista Geoff Davies 2 August 2016

Continued reliance on extractive industries will impoverish South Africans, and the planet

Is our belief that South Africa’s wealth lies in extractive industries so great that we are prepared to impoverish our people? Are we so committed to the pursuit of wealth that we kill the goose that lays the golden egg – disregarding the consequences on people and planet earth, our only home? Is it corruption that allows us to jeopardise the future well-being of our people and planet? Have we and our government lost all sense of what is morally right? 

In March we saw the assassination of Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Radebe, chair of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) which has represented the Pondoland community in opposing titanium mining at Xolobeni between Port Edward and the Mtentu River. 

In April enraged members of the rural community neighbouring the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park again protested against the Fuleni coal mine. The homes of 16,000 families as well as two schools and a clinic would be demolished for the mine, as well as threatening the iMfolozi Park.

These two communities share two common threads. One, they are united in their opposition to mining; and two, the Department of Mineral Resources appears determined to proceed with the mining, regardless of the consequences on the people involved.

The Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, is being disingenuous when saying “objections that had been lodged against the mining right application would be processed by a regional committee”. He is promoting mining, even to the extent of saying in his budget speech “if the majority did not want mining, government would have to persuade them to see government’s point of view”.

Cabinet Ministers have known about heavy minerals at Xolobeni for years. They, and the Premier of the Eastern Cape, have been to the community which has consistently told them that they don’t want mining. “This is our land, and no one is going to take it away from us,” the government was told.

Yet the Department allowed a new application for the coastal dune mining at Xolobeni. It is clear that the Department wants to authorise mining on the Wild Coast – after all mining is their business. And of course there is an immense amount of money to be made.

Likewise with coal mining. At Fuleni there is an immense amount of money to be made for the already wealthy with vested interests. The question is, who are the beneficiaries?

It is only a minority who will benefit from huge amounts of money that will be made from these mines.

In the process, the Wild Coast mining will destroy 24 kilometres of coastline, five major fish breeding estuaries and the ecotourism potential – for ever. It will provide only a handful of menial jobs for the local community for 17 to 20 years.

In the long term ecotourism could create far more wealth, employment and benefit to the community than mining ever will. But the government persists in considering the application. It is tragic that the ANC government – a government of the people we had hoped – backs mining groups to the detriment of its citizens. What is happening on the Wild Coast is being replicated across our country.

The local community does not want the Fuleni coal mine. Those who care about their land and community don’t want it, and the planet does not want it. Globally, we have to stop burning coal, so why open new coal mines?

We have to ask whether the Department of Mineral Resources has heard about climate change? They must start thinking about what is good for our people and our country and our planet, and not just about money to be made from coal.

It also has to listen to local communities and not just those with mining interests and rich investors.

The conflict, the slaying, the death threats on the Wild Coast are being laid at the feet of the Department of Mineral Resources. The police clearly support those with mining interests to the detriment of the local community. No further investigation or arrests have been made for the assassination Bazooka, nor the e-news photographers who were beaten up when covering his funeral.

It has been said “white outsiders” have been fermenting the trouble and dissatisfaction. This sounds unfortunately familiar to the Apartheid government’s claim that African dissatisfaction was being fermented by white liberals, as if the people involved did not know what was right or wrong or good for them.

I was the Anglican Diocesan bishop of that that area for 17 years. It was part of my responsibility to see what was good for the well-being of my parishioners in that part of the world. I had to be involved. I asked, first, “what is right – for people and planet?” And secondly, “what are the consequences of the mining?”

Infrastructure is needed, particularly local roads and clinics but the Amadiba community ask why they have to sacrifice their land for what all South Africans have been promised since 1994, like water and electricity and roads?

It is a small minority who are supporting the mining. The overwhelming majority of people are totally opposed to it. However the potential for serious conflict remains between the local community and those with mining interests, even though the Australian MRC has withdrawn.

Tourism is South Africa’s growth industry. The long-term potential of tourism will make far more money, will benefit the local community and will also preserve a magnificent and unique part of our country.

A large proportion of the community who would be displaced by mining are producing their own food. An enlightened government must realise our wealth does not lie in extractive industries but in the development of our skills and productive caring of our land to feed our people. We are in desperate need of employment – then let us develop agriculture using people and not machines. Carbon intensive machines do people out of jobs! Food security is going to be an issue of increasing importance. At present we are allowing devastating erosion of our lands. Care for our land and our soil and climate and the planet will care for us and provide jobs and food.

In a world facing food scarcity and loss of wilderness, agriculture and wilderness areas for tourism become increasingly valuable and sought after. Compare this positive potential to the massive destruction of open cast mining, which will destroy the land forever. DM

Bishop Geoff Davies is patron of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute.

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