Frontline communities resisting mining and fracking in South Africa have come together to create the Matatiele Manifesto. Calling for food and energy sovereignty, land rights and water protections, the manifesto strikes at the heart of South Africa’s extractivist land policies, writes Rachel Lees.
Written for YLNM by Rachel Lees. 05/12/2016.
This October, a school hall in Matatiele in South Africa’s Eastern Cape was filled not with students but 120 environmental activists, community members and traditional leaders.
The gathering, named ‘Frack Free Festival’, took place over three days and those attending represented communities from KwaZulu Natal, the Eastern Cape and Free State Provinces who are affected by fracking or mining, or risk being so as their land is under application for exploration licenses.
The purpose of Frack Free Festival, facilitated by organisations GroundWork and Frack Free South Africa, was multifaceted, but sharing stories and learning about resistance strategies from one another played a key role. Community representatives from both Xolobeni and Melmoth, who have actively resisted mining and fracking on their land over the past decade, began the event by sharing their experience of resistance.
Sinegugu Zukulu’s traditional home is in the Xolobeni area, where the activities of mining companies have been well documented following the murder of community member and activist Sikosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Radebe in March of this year. Bazooka was chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), a group created to oppose the activities of Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC), and was shot in the head eight times, brutally killed in front of his young son.
Sharing the Xolobeni community’s story of resistance at Frack Free Fest, Zukulu said:
Mining companies don’t see the land for its beauty – they see it for its wealth and will trash it, and people, in order to make themselves rich.
Zukulu’s sentiments were echoed by Mavuso, representing the town of Melmoth in KwaZulu Natal. Melmoth residents have successfully resisted the mining activities of Jindal Africa, but now face the prospect of fracking on the same land. Speaking at the festival, Mavuso described mines as “the enemy of development”, saying:
They (the mines) do not develop people. In fact, we call it ‘tsunami development’ – they come and then they run away. Anyway, we are already developed! We have water sources and water structures, electricity and schools. Mining is a mass eviction process – it’s not development.
Frack Free Festival also provided the space to explore alternative energies and sustainable practices. This was done through field visits to a Matatiele home that runs off solar and wind power, as well as the home of a local farmer who fuels his home on biogas from his own cows. Both visits provided an insight into the clean energy available through innovative solutions, dispelling the myth of advancing mining and fracking companies that their extractive pursuits are needed to ensure the homes of South Africans have power.
While the cost of adding solar panels to homes may have initially seemed unaffordable to the mine-threatened communities who took part in Frack Free Fest, Matatiele residents demonstrated to their visitors how, through the creation of saving groups or coops, the people of Matatiele have successfully saved up for and installed solar in their community.
Over the three days of the festival, events like these helped to unpack the question of sustainability that Zukulu asked those present:
How are we as activists practicing what we preach in terms of sustainability? How are we treating soil well and taking seriously positive affirmative action on our land?
The responses to this question and the experiences brought forward by community members represented in Matatiele culminated in the production of the inspiring Matatiele Manifesto, a common statement denouncing the extractive model of development and demanding “some for all, forever”.
Since the event took place and the manifesto was released communities in attendance have seen success in their resistance efforts. Both Afro Energy and Sungu Sungu recently withdrew their applications for exploration rights in areas that covered parts of KwaZulu Natal, Mpumalanga, Harrismith, Mont Pelaan and Verkykerskop.
But while it is clear that resistance activities conducted by affected communities against extractive industries can result in success, the battle to protect their land is a fierce one.
Last month, the South African Government passed a bill which paves the way for the country to be opened up to more mining. The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Bill is expected to put greater power into the hands of the mineral resources manager, allowing rules to be set and changed quickly.
James Lorimer of South Africa’s Democratic Alliance expressed his concern of the bill saying:
It will open the door to corruption, allowing the minister to hand out mining rights to friends, cronies or the highest bidder, and based on current performance, we can be sure that the state won’t get all that bid money.
As governmental and corporate efforts to advance a land agenda that clashes with that of the communities that live on the land itself, the hope is that the Matatiele Manifesto will strengthen South African communities’ resistance to mining, fracking and all they bring.