Mining the Wild Coast

After last week's blog article on mining and the threat it poses to our natural resources, I received a very disturbing email from a friend of mine, Bridgette Duffey. Bridgette and her partners, Russel Hartshorne and Andrew Werner, have started a joint ecotourism venture in the Pondoland area of the Wild Coast. As an aquatic ecologist, I know these areas have some of the last remaining pristine estuarine and coastal forest habitats within South Africa, and need to be preserved. They have reopened the Mtentu River Lodge, which has been dormant after a decade of threatening titanium mining left the lodge and many others lying idle.The AmaDiba community won a presidential award for its community-run tourism operations but, after the titanium mining debacle, all the hard work to reach this goal was undone. Lodges were left empty and the community's drive for ecotourism was halted by pressure form the mine to implement new practices, which were promised to yield big returns. The mine hired a local community representative to convince the community that mining was the way to go, and the ecotourism drive was stunted. This is a perfect example of a rich mining company moving into a rural area, with all its propaganda, promises and corrupting influence ruining well thought out and operating community based ecotourism. Mining companies do not care, as long as they get what they want, make huge profits, and then leave.The remaining land is useless for sustainable agriculture, livestock and the ecotourism practices. In other words, the local communities are left with nothing, after being promised everything. The long-term benefits of sustainable ecotourism practices far outweigh the benefits associated with short term titanium mining, for all parties concerned.

Basically, a brief outline of this debacle should be mentioned. After the AmaDiba community won the presidential award for its community-run tourism operations, the Australian mining company (MRC) moved in and ascertained the mineral rights to the ancestral lands. This was awarded in 2008 by former director-general of the Mineral Resources Department, Sandile Nogxina. Initially, the rights were awarded as the local communities were bypassed with incorrect information, propaganda and corrupt mining and local officials. The full extent of what the mining would encompass and the devastation it would bring to their ancestral lands was not fully explained. A clear case of what mining companies do all over the world to acquire pristine land from local communities, mine it and then leave it a decrepit, irreparable state. Luckily, the new minister, Susan Shabangu, has cancelled the mining rights awarded to MRC, and as such the debacle seems to have been solved.However, in the three months MRC has had to object (ending in October), the lodge owners and communities have been badgered, pestered and openly intimidated by mining officials and corrupt local communities on the payroll of the mine. A common and cowardly tactic, the mining corporations will corrupt local officials with the lure of money and power, and get them to do the dirty work. In an article in the Times newspaper on Tuesday, August 16th 2011, Nonhle Mbuthuma describes the situation further, but form a local community’s point of view. She explains how the communities have won back their respect and how, hopefully, this mining saga is over and done with. She also explains that if the secrecy bill had been implemented already, information available on the matter would not have been freely available, and the mining would have most likely have gone through - an interesting point of consideration adding to the current fight regarding the freedom of information in our country.

At the end of the day, this type of situation is happening all over Africa, as well as within South African borders. The fight for the sustainable utilisation of our resources and pristine lands should continue, so that local communities, biodiversity and conservation are the ultimate winners, not the power hungry, money grabbing mining companies that offer only a short term solution. People like Bridgette, Andrew and Russell should be commended on their actions, as well as all the community members fighting against the mining company and the ways in which they operate. Let’s hope that this is the end of the matter, that the mining rights remain the property of the community and are never implemented.Is the immediate employment of hundreds or thousands of South Africans worth the environmental sacrifice implied by unscrupulous mines? Are there pros and cons? What do you think? Leave us a comment!

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