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Xolobeni – Red Card Greed by Nomboniso Gasa

27 July 2011

Newspaper article from Daily Dispatch: Xolobeni – red card greed by NOMBONISO GASA

Uhlohlesakhe-khe-khe-khe-khe….! The big voice boomed from the wireless radio of my childhood signalling the beginning of a radio drama about a man who only stuffed his own stomach.

That voice had the authority of ringing bells of a Christian church calling believers to pray on a Sunday morning. We, the children and adults of the household – the ardent followers of the radio drama – d r op p e d everything and sat down to listen to the antics of the all too powerful man. We were spellbound by the scheming of his minions, who also benefited whilst everyone else was starving.

Last week, the community of Sigidi village in Xolobeni danced when Mineral and Energy Affairs Minister Susan Shabangu delayed the issuing of mining rights. The booming voice came back to me. As children we laughed at the antics of this cunning man and the generals who fed his ego in order to ensure that their pockets and stomachs profited. The adults shook their heads and had wistful looks; they knew such men. These men were partly responsible for the misery of many in our villages. These people of Sigidi village were amongst those who had been tricked by the “connected visionaries” in their communities. So convinced were those who possess “entrepreneurial wisdom” of the necessity and viability of this project, they thought it was justified to forge signatures and misuse copies of ID documents to get the process off the ground.

The main company, Australian Mineral Commodities, and its South African partner, Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources (TEM), have been given 90 days to address the concerns that arise from their application. Eventually, it will probably go through and mining will steam ahead. After all, as far back as 2008 we were told that because this is one of the poorest regions in the country, it needed mining. The project can’t be stopped.

The 22km mining strip in Xolobeni raises uncomfortable and awkward questions. Like many others elsewhere, the bottom line is quite often a future of unimagined misery and a destroyed environment and heritage. Is it worth it? We must ask this question now because it will certainly be asked in future. What legacy will be left on the land? Each project is presented on the back of the success of others. But of the failures, of the ghost towns left behind, we hear nothing. There is silence on the environmental costs, on the disturbance to cultural life, on the destruction forever of the beauty of these places.

The carefully phrased environmental impact studies commissioned for the project show how the risks will be mitigated and craftily hide the real impact and cost. By the time it becomes clear that these are never sufficient, a great deal has been destroyed. Even before mining has started the poor of Xolobeni, in whose names these projects are partly justified, are paying heavily. They have been prevented from pursuing sustainable livelihoods through eco-tourism since the issuing of mining rights. This community has also suffered severe tensions and conflict.

These companies do not worry about the impact on the socio-cultural life of villagers. They are not bothered by divisions that make neighbours see each other as enemies. The cost of their financial interest and bottom line is not borne by them and their progeny, now or in the future. Even the most holistic analysis of the environmental impact studies generally does not integrate the important social relations of communities.

Xolobeni Mining Sands project must be stopped, not just on technical grounds. These companies must not be given licence to plunder and squander at will. It has to be stopped because its destruction far outweighs any possible gains. Evidence stares at us from Nigeria’s Niger delta and the mess that has unfolded over 40 years without benefits accruing to the communities. Look beyond the ghost towns in this country to those in Australia, in the US and elsewhere. We ignore these lessons at our peril.

There is a problem with stuffing your stomach. It disturbs the digestive process. With time it compromises vital organs and the sensitive balance in the body. With time, the kidneys are not able to function effectively. The heart cannot cope.

It is okay, I suppose, if uhlohlesakhe chooses to destroy his own body. The trouble with Xolobeni is that the kidneys, the heart, the liver and the pancreas are the bowels of the earth, shared by all. The greed of a few destroys lives of all, now and in future. This must be stopped.

Nomboniso Gasa is a researcher and analyst on gender, politics and cultural issues. She hails from St Marks in the Transkei