South Africa: Fuleni communities tell Ibutho Coal to leave and never return!

By Sheila Berry. Originally posted at Save Our iMfolozi Wilderness

Over a thousand vocal Fuleni residents gathered at Ntuthunga 2, yesterday, Sunday, 17 May 2015, at 10h00, for a meeting called by Ibutho Coal to present information about the EIA report. The reason given for the meeting was that Marietjie Eksteen, the EAP who heads Jacana Environmental, is under pressure to submit the EIR by this coming Friday, 22 May 2015, if she is to meet the deadline set in terms of the EIA regulations.

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The people came from the six villages that Ibutho Coal only recently admitted would be affected by the proposed Fuleni open cast mine, viz. Ntuthunga 1 and 2, Novanula, Ocilwane and Fuyeni and Makhwezini. For over a year, all documents from Ibutho Coal and Jacana, even the Scoping Report, mentioned only the first four villages as being affected.

The fierce connection of the proud Mthethwa people with the Fuleni area, the place where King Shaka grew up and learned his military skills, was evident when the crowd, led by a large contingent of women, spontaneously burst into song at the start of the meeting: “This is our ancestral land. We will do anything to defend it. This land belongs to Black people.”

Over a year ago, at the start of the EIA process, and consistently since then, GET and its Community and Wilderness Alliance (CAWA), Ezemvelo and other IAPs have raised concerns about the lack of engagement and consultation with the affected communities by Jacana Environmental and Lizinda Dickson’s Naledi Consultants, who took over responsibility for the public participation process during the EIA phase. When the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (DEDTEA) accepted the still seriously flawed amended Final Scoping Report on14 April 2015, GET, MACUA groundWork and Ezemvelo immediately objected with one of the main concerns being the inadequate consultation with the affected Fuleni communities.

Though EAP, Marietjie Eksteen, is specifically responsible for presenting and explaining the EIA to interested and affected parties (IAPs), she and her team were not at the meeting. Instead the explanation was left to Ibutho Coal’s three directors: Chairman Locksley Pege, Johan van der Berg and Menzi Gqweta. Absent were Thembi Myeni, who has been very visible in the past but not seen in Fuleni for several months, Peter Gain, who lives in the UK, and Tom Borman.

Also present was Ibutho Coal’s representative in the communities, Sozitha, who together with , Councillor Ndimande’s son, is blamed and for the insensitive and illegal marking of people’s homes with stickers a couple of weeks ago in Ntuthunga 1. When distressed home owners asked what the stickers meant they were told they indicated which houses would be moved to make way for the mine. This caused an outrage because there had been no consultation or information about the stickers. At the meeting, an old man shared how shattering the experience has been for him and that he has not been able to sleep since the sticker was put on his house. He said he would be willing to die at the meeting in his firm stand against the mine.

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The Ibutho Coal representatives were totally unprepared and unable to answer relevant questions put to them from the floor. Instead questions were written down and people were told the answers would be obtained for them. This did not please the crowd who had turned up in force to hear about Ibutho Coal’s plans for their future and an explanation of the EIA.

“The disregard Ibutho Coal holds for the community was evident in the poor organisation of the meeting,” says Billy Mzokhana Mnqondo, one of Ocilwane’s elected mining committee representatives. “The marquee was totally inadequate for the crowd that arrived. The sound system was faulty so most people could not hear what was being said, there was no screen only a few boards outside the marque with general information about the Fuleni project, and no toilets or water had been organised.”

Billy started the meeting by asking where the toilets were, especially for the women, many of them elderly, and called for the meeting to be stopped there and then. The Ibutho Coal representatives were clearly embarrassed by this significant oversight. It did not go unnoticed that they had organised a police presence but no toilets for the people.

Ibutho Coal and Jacana’s strategy has been to focus on the greedy and easily corruptible tribal council rather than to meet with the people who will be directly affected by the mine. This has angered the people and turned them against the iNdunas and councillors who have been supporting the mine before consulting with communities to hear what they want. One of the main supporters of Ibutho Coal is Mbusowabathethwa (also known as Mntanenkosi) the iNkosi’s son, who attended the meeting with several of his allies.

“Everyone knows that Mntanenkosi has been in the pocket of Ibutho Coal and has been selling our land and the residents of Fuleni since the very beginning. He and other corrupt Indunas and councillors stand to gain from the mine and do not care about the thousands of Fuleni residents who will lose their homes, their lands and their livelihoods” said a Fuleni resident who preferred not to be named.

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Another popular tactic is to bus in people to lobby for the proposal being discussed. When villagers from Nhlabusini, the biggest village falling under the Mhlana tribal authority, arrived at the venue, they were informed by community representatives that the meeting was for the six villages directly affected by the proposed mine and that it would be best if they left, as their village was not one of the six. They agreed to leave without incident.

Lebo Masuku, a young woman from Novunula, commented in perfect English that Ibutho Coal and its consultants were banking on the people being ignorant and ill-informed so that they could trick and subdue the uneducated rural villagers into giving up their land. Instead they found people who know about these tricks and also know their rights.

It was decided to terminate the meeting after 40 minutes because of the mounting frustration amongst the people who were left wondering what the real purpose of the meeting was. Many people refused to sign the attendance register after being warned that consultants use this as evidence of a meeting and consultation taking place with a community when this is clearly not the case.

Mr M.Z. Lembethe, representing Ntuthunga 2, summarised the main points that came out of the meeting: “People said they have been deliberately confused by the Fuleni leadership and that they do not trust Ibutho Coal and Jacana Environmental but want the Department of Mineral Resources and other relevant authorities to come and explain the EIA process to us. They also challenged and want full disclosure of the process that was followed when Ibutho Coal obtained its two prospecting licences. Referring to Chapter 2 of the Constitution, they complained that their rights as South African citizens have been limited. We want to be given information about all decisions that affect us.” Lembethe specifically mentioned veiled threats by Ibutho Coal of removing people from their homes and land without compensation.

Phila Ndimande, Ocilwane’s elected spokesperson on mining issues, said he hoped Ibutho Coal heard the clear message from the six affected villages that they do not want to see Ibutho Coal representatives in the area and that they do not need or want the Fuleni coal mine. He expressed concern that violence might erupt if Ibutho Coal persists. “We, the people, have not been consulted by Ibutho Coal and our voices have not been heard by our Chief. The people in the affected villages are disappointed. At the meeting the people were saying that our Chief has not been to see his people on this side for over 20 years. They feel they have been abandoned by their Chief and have no leader. In a situation like this, the people have to lead themselves.”

Sifiso Dladla, who represents the Global Environmental Trust (GET) and Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA) commented: “The communities of Fuleni have spoken and now Ibutho Coal together with their allies have no choice but to listen. This is not the first Ibutho Coal meeting that has had to be stopped because of community frustration and anger. There is growing unity within the community regardless of people’s political affiliations and Ibutho Coal’s strategies to divide the community.”

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Ibutho Coal’s proposed Fuleni open case mine area is sited between 40 and 100 metres from the boundary of the iMfolozi Wilderness Area, the first declared wilderness area in Africa. The iMfolozi park is one of the oldest formal protected areas on the continent and was proclaimed in 1895 to protect the last small group of southern white rhino in Africa. The iMfolozi Wilderness Area and the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) enjoys a reputation as a major tourist attraction and has drawn visitors from all over the world for more than 100 years. The impact of the proposed Fuleni mine on stressed iMfolozi river, which already has insufficient water year round for HiP, the Fuleni communities and downstream users, is a major environmental concern. The Scoping Report states it cannot draw water for the mine from the river and the suggested alternative water are totally inadequate for the mine’s requirements. Given this fatal environmental flaw, GET has called for the EIA process to be stopped. The opposition of the Fuleni communities presents another enormous obstacle that Ibutho Coal might find impossible to overcome.

 

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