Suspend Wild Coast mining, say leading health academics

Originally published by GroundUp on 02/04/16.


Heads of university health departments write letter to Minister of Mineral Resources

Five heads of schools of public health have written to Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane following the assassination of anti-mining activist Sikhosiphi "Bazooka" Rhadebe. Photo: Government website

Five heads of schools of public health have written to Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane following the assassination of anti-mining activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe. Photo: Government website

Following the assassination of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, the heads of the schools of public and community health at five universities have written to the Minster of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, calling for the suspension of mining in the Amadiba area on the Wild Coast. They have sent a similar letter to the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi.

The Honorable Minister of Mineral Resources: Mr Mosebenzi Zwane

cc The Human Rights Commission and The Public Protector

31 March 2016

Dear Honorable Minister Zwane

We write to express and bring to your attention our shock and sadness at the brutal murder of the chairperson of Amadiba Crisis Committee, Mr Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe last week. As chair of the ACC, Mr Rhadebe was helping lead the struggle of Amadiba residents on the Wild Coast in opposing open-cast titanium mining by the Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC).

According to Amadiba Crisis Committee: “The hitmen came in a white Polo with a rotating blue lamp on the roof. Two men knocked at the door saying they were the police. Mr Rhadebe was shot with 8 bullets in the head.” We join the Rhadebe family and the Amadiba community in their great sadness.

This is not the first case of intimidation or violence against those who have opposed mining in the area. A memorandum drawn up by the community which we attach, documents numerous instances of intimidation and murder and challenges in having the local police take up these cases.

As leading Schools of Public Health in universities the country, we wish to state that:

1. The mining of titanium in this area, against the wishes of a large section of the community, is likely to impact negatively on the ability of people in this area to continue their agricultural activities and improve food security and that it will be to the detriment of the health and well-being of a poor and vulnerable rural community.

2. The mining is targetting an eco-sensitive area of the country and bodes ill in the light of global climate change that also impacts on population health in general and more especially those of vulnerable communities.

3. Levels of violence are extremely high in South Africa and the pattern of violence that has culminated in Mr Rhadebe’s murder is an example of the epidemic of violence, as a key health and social problem in the country that needs to be addressed.

We are extremely disturbed at the attitude of Mr Mark Caruso, the director of the Mineral Commodities Limited the Australian listed company of which the South African TEM company that plans to mine in the area is a subsidiary. Although he denied involvement of MRC in the killing, he was reported in the Sunday Times of 25 November 2016, as threatening local opponents of a similar mining venture near Vredendal in the Western Cape. In an email to local stakeholders, he warned “..And I will strike down upon thee with vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know that I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.”

He went on to invite his detractors to continue their “campaign” against the mine by indicating: “I am enlivened by [the] opportunity to grind all resistance to my presence and the presence of MRC [the South African subsidiary of Mineral Commodities] into the animals [sic] of history as a failed campaign.”

What can we make of such language when a vocal opponent of MRC is gunned down in cold blood for campaigning against sand mining in the wild coast? The mining company denied any links with the violence. However, it is clear that such a statement from the Company’s director is very irresponsible in encouraging violence. We are alarmed at the lack of respect for human rights, enshrined in our constitution, encapsulated in this statement.

We support and would like to urge you, particularly as Minister of Mineral Resources to take an active stand in initiating calls for:

1. The suspension of all plans for the company to proceed with titanium mining in the Amadiba area.

2. The company abide by the Bill of Rights in our Constitution and take responsibility for the violent actions of its proxy representatives.

3. An independent enquiry by the Human Rights Commission into the string of murders related to plans for mining and speedy arrest and successful prosecution of the killers of Mr Radebe and others related these events.

4. To reconsider plans for mining in this region, taking into consideration an environmental impact assessment through an independent body such as the Human Rights Commission and the Public Protector, given the potentially serious negative health, environmental and human rights impacts.

5. The murder of Mr Rhadebe has catapulted this issue onto the international stage with publicity and opposition emerging in Australia, the U.S, the UK and elsewhere. (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/25/australian-mining-company-denies-role-in-of-south-african-activist; http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/27/why-is-it-left-to-us-ngos-to-expose-australian-minings-wrongdoing-in-africa).

We urge you on behalf of the government of South Africa to clarify its position on this matter.

Yours sincerely

Professor Helen Schneider

(Head of School of Public Health, University of Western Cape)

Professor Mohamed Jeebhay

(Head of School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town)

Professor Usuf Chikte

(Acting Head of Department of Community Health, University of Stellenbosch)

Professor Laetitia Rispel

(Head of School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)

Professor Ziyanda Vundle

(Head of Department of Community Medicine, Walter Sisulu University, Mthatha)

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