By Sheila Berry
A Fuleni mine meeting was cut short on Sunday, 31 August 2014, and Ibutho Coal was sent packing by angry Ocilwane residents before Marietjie Eksteen of Jacana Environmentals could finish her presentation. Ocilwane is one of the four villages directly affected by the proposed Fuleni open cast coal mine.
The community turned out in force, and it was standing room only as close to 100 people gathered to hear what Ibutho Coal has in store for them. What they heard made them so angry that the meeting had to be called to an end to prevent violence erupting.
Ocilwane is about 10kms away from the Somkhele open cast coal mine and even at that distance the residents live with the impacts of blasting, coal dust, contaminated water, cattle becoming ill and dying, increased respiratory diseases, asthma, etc. When they heard Ibutho Coal expected them to live 500metres from the open pit, the hall exploded.
Phila Ndimande, Ocilwane’s main spokesperson on mining matters, summed up the comments from the community by telling Ibutho Coal’s director, Thembi Myeni: “Do not call another meeting. Ocilwane does not want the mine no matter what you offer us, so do not come back. Today you have heard the people complain that you are ignoring our voices and we are being undermined and disrespected. You know we speak Zulu, yet you come to the community with a presentation in English. You are not welcome to come again.”
The meeting with the KwaNovunula community, also scheduled for Sunday, was cancelled by Ibutho Coal because of the hostility of the Ocilwane residents.
Since 2006, Ibutho Coal has been involved behind the scenes positioning themselves to obtain a mining licence without consultations with the affected communities. Somehow Ibutho Coal managed to obtain two prospecting licences from the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) by-passing the very first requirement for tribal land, which is to consult with the communities concerned and obtain their permission via the tribal council to enter into a lease agreement. No such lease exists. A meaningless document lodged with the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB), in Pietermaritzburg, with only eight signatures on it, was not even considered by ITB because it lacked content from the Local Tribal Authority. It also lapsed after two years, long before the first prospecting right was granted.
With such a shady start to their Fuleni Anthracite Project, it comes as no surprise that Ibutho Coal has Jacana Environmentals and Lizinda Dickson of Naledi Development, conducting the EIA. They are gaining a reputation for missing our vital steps in the EIA process to fast track and push through coal mines before rural communities know what has hit them. They are currently involved in a battle in Limpopo province with the Venda people. Mphatheleni Makaulule, programme coordinator for the Mupo Foundation, explains: “Jacana and Naledi do not care about the voice of the communities. They have obstructed us and dismissed our concerns about CoAL’s proposed Mopane mine saying we are not affected parties when the water for the proposed mine comes from our area.”
The meeting on Sunday was the very first meeting called by Ibutho Coal to explain the details of the proposed Fuleni Anthracite project. The two previous meetings focused on selling the deadly sugar-coated pill using jobs, bursaries, upgrading roads, and the promise by Ibutho Coal’s director, Thembi Myeni that “When the mine comes, no one in Fuleni will be poor”! The neighbouring Somkhele coal mine has made the Fuleni community well aware that mining leaves people worse off by taking away one’s land and one’s livelihood. Without land for agriculture and grazing for livestock, how does one survive in a rural area?
In 1963, the Ocilwane community was relocated from near eMpangeni to make way for the Owen Sitole Agricultural College so residents are familiar with the upheaval of moving and making a new home. Sabelo Njolo, another member of the Ocilwane committee dealing with mining matters, commented: “Ibutho Coal does not understand you grow close to your land and it becomes part of you because of what happens to you there, good and bad. We are determined not to move again. Our environment is healthy and our village has most of the facilities we need. We have our cattle, our agriculture, and woodlots. Why would we want to live next to a coal mine?”
Marietjie Eksteen told the meeting that they are busy with the final stages of the scoping report when the final scoping report was submitted to DME and made available to the public on 10 July 2014. Whatever concerns and comments were raised by the Ocilwane community at the meeting on Sunday will certainly never appear in this document.
Meanwhile the EIA process is in full swing, with many under-qualified “specialists” clearly under pressure to meet the deadline set by Jacana of completing the EIA report later this month.
Phila Ndimande met with Chief Mthetwa, on Tuesday, 2 September 2014, to report on Sunday’s meeting with Ibutho Coal and to convey the clear message that Ocilwane village does not want Fuleni mine. Ibutho Coal will be holding a combined meeting next Sunday with Ntuthunga 1 and 2. Chief Mthethwa has given the assurance that he will honour the decision of the four affected villages once these consultative meetings have been held.
Representing Global Environmental Trust’s Subcommittee Opposing Mining Expansion (GET SOME) and the Community and Wilderness Alliance (CAWA) in the campaign to Save our Imfolozi Wilderness
2 September 2014