Despite its political rhetoric about land restitution, including by expropriation without compensation, the government is turning a blind eye to continuing dispossession, and the violence accompanying it. In Xolobeni, Eastern Cape, the anti-mining sector continues to stand firm, despite the murder of a leader, attacks and threats. In KwaZulu-Natal people in rural communities opposing mining not only have to deal with traditional leadership seduced by mining companies, but with the Ingonyama Trust. The Trust ignores its mandate to act in the interests of communities, and grants leases which impact negatively on them. Despite government contestation, it has also claimed mining royalties.
Rural communities around Mtubatuba, Mthunzini and Richards Bay suffer the consequences of coal or titanium mining, including land dispossession, polluted water, and respiratory illnesses. In the area bordering on the iSimangaliso World Heritage site Eyamakhosi Resources (Pty) Ltd has recently applied for prospecting rights for rare earth minerals. Reportedly, there arere are plans to dig a deep well to store a huge quantity of carbon gas emissions on traditional land south of Kosi Bay. Urgent answers, and interventions, are needed about events in Mpembeni, south of Richards Bay, where people are resisting moving to make way for what they have been told are oil-related developments. At least four people have been killed in the past two and a half months and killers may strike again at any time.

Mpembeni is part of the KwaDube traditional authority area where RBM (Richards Bay Minerals) has been mining titanium and rare earth minerals for the past few years. However, last year men described as being from ‘overseas’ were seen surveying another part of Mpembeni and taking aerial photographs. Locals have been told that some of the residents will need to move from their homes for mining-related activities, for which the king has given his approval. Traditional authority structures are allegedly divided and riven by corruption, which locals claim is linked to the death of ANC official Sifiso Mlambo in January 2018.
There are no known oil-related activities in this area apart from an application by EMI and Sasol to prospect off-shore, which is nowhere near finalisation. So, what is going on? Despite concerted attempts to obtain information no one is telling. An initial letter sent to provincial and national government departments on 5 July, and further follow up letters – especially to CoGTA in KZN – remain unanswered. Emails to the Ingonyama Trust were returned to the sender.
The killings started four days after the first letter was sent, when Geshege Nkwanyana was shot dead on 10 July. Ntuthuko Dladla’s murder followed three days later. These deaths bore the hallmark of the deployment of trained hitmen, including surveillance of the victims – as have subsequent deaths. On 16 September Khaya Ncube was shot dead, and two days later another man opposed to moving (Ngcobo) narrowly missed being killed. On 26 September Keke Ngwane was shot dead at lunch time at the nearby Esikhawini shopping mall (this pattern, of tracking people down and killing them in public places has also characterised many politically-linked killings).
The common thread in these attacks and continuing threats to associates of the deceased is that they all involve residents who oppose moving. They know that those who were persuaded by RBM to move for the titanium mining have been financially short-changed, and they do not want to lose the precious land on which they grow food and keep livestock. They are also angry that some of the KwaDube land ‘belongs’ to prominent politicians who have been given leases to it. They remain determined not to move but, not knowing who will be next, they are terrified of the hidden forces waging a war of attrition against them. Who are they? What is it about their land that people are killed to gain possession of it?

The biggest stumbling block to transparency about developments on traditional land in KZN is the Ingonyama Trust, which makes a great deal of money issuing leases for land for which constitutional rights are vested in its residents. Not only was this land, historically, not ‘owned’ (in the modern commercial sense) by the king, but much of the Trust land was never part of the historic Zulu kingdom. Traditional leadership is divided in support for the Trust, but opponents dare not speak out. However, some autocratic leaders lacking any sense of accountability, and sometimes in collusion with corrupt local government officials, may take decisions which are not in the interests of their subjects – especially given huge inducements offered by mining companies. It is their subjects who then suffer and receive no support from the government. That is what is happening in many parts of KZN where mining is taking place, or where the threat of mining looms. The Trust has presumably given a lease to some entity to engage in further mining-related operations in KwaDube (and in KwaSokhulu near iSimangaliso, and in KwaTembe) but their decisions are opaque. The actions of the Trust create the impression that it is a law unto itself, despite it being subject to parliament, the government, and the Constitution. Does the Trust not realise that by maintaining a veil of secrecy it facilitates the actions of whoever is behind the killings – especially as there are probably many well-connected people with vested interests in whatever is planned for this area?
The same applies to provincial and national government departments which presumably know why people are being told they will need to move. People who were planning public protest in July have been cowed into silence. Covert forces are sending a clear message that it is dangerous to oppose moving, yet government departments have refused to provide information to which KwaDube residents, and the public, are entitled in terms of Section 32 of the Constitution? Why?
Collusion in dispossessing people of their land exposes the hypocrisy of the government’s land restitution rhetoric – and inevitably invites comparisons with colonial and apartheid dispossession.

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