By Sifiso Dladla
KZN VISIT TO MAKE LOGISTICAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR REGIONAL EXCHANGE VISIT (02-03 DECEMBER 2014)
On the 1st of December I made my way to Richards Bay to meet with my female comrades by the name of Samantha Hargreaves and Caroline Ntaopane, both from Gauteng, and Zama Ntuli from the Nseleni township in Richards Bay. We were also joined by Professor Patrick Bond of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Civil Society. In the early hours of Tuesday morning we made our way to the Fuleni community to meet with the woman of Ocilwane and Ntuthunga 2 to find out if there has been any platform created before for them, as woman, to discuss their issues concerning the proposed mine. The next day saw us making our way to Somkhele where we met woman again at Machibini area not far from the main entrance to the mine.
Our meeting was initially arranged to be at the Ocilwane Community Hall. We did not take into consideration that that particular day was pension pay day, so alternative arrangements had to be made. We decided to go to where the majority of women were gathered, which was the pension payout point. We soldiered that blistering hot sunny weather to gather and explain our intentions to the women. Although we only realized it later, much to our advantage we came hours before the pension payout vehicles made their way to the Ocilwane Community Hall. This means we had a captive audience and the women were interested and ready to listen to what we had to share with them. Barely 15 minutes after our presentation ended, the payout vehicles arrived and chaos ensued. At this point we realized how lucky we were.
Our meeting took place under the tree, just 15 meters away from the payout area. Zama opened the meeting by informing the woman about the regional exchange visit that will take place in January 2015 and that they will be part of the exchange. This meant they were required to nominate 2 delegates to attend the exchange who would represent them. It came as a great surprise to be offered an opportunity to be represented at such a prestigious meeting. All the time, up until now, they have been sidelined and never offered an opportunity to express their concerns or views about the proposed Fuleni mine. This led to Comrade Caroline posing the question: “Have you ever had a chance to meet as woman before?” The answer was unanimously and unashamedly “No!”
The women of Fuleni know their position with regards to the subject of the proposed mine. They speak with an unassailable voice and say Thembi Myeni, Ibutho Coal’s director and main spokesperson for the company, must take her mine to where she was born. Their concerns range from the promises that IC is making like that of the mine creating job opportunities. Their question is “Who will work for those of them who are widows?” since they know that work in the mine mostly man friendly.
They don’t want the mine because they will be the ones tasked with taking their children and grandchildren to clinics when they get sick from the diseases that the mine will bring along. One elderly woman went on to say: “We have had enough of the Somkhele mine and their negative impacts on us even though they are far away from us. If the mine is opened here, then we have to die before that happens.” Her comment was received with extreme endorsement, ululations and clapping of hands. On our way out a man wanted to know what we had been discussing with the woman that had made them so happy.
Above: Woman having their meeting under the tree.
A church in Machibini was our meeting venue. Just as we are about to enter the gate I picked up a brick of anthracite coal and checked as to how far it was from the mine. Much to my surprise the mine was a far distance away that if I had to throw the brick back to the mine, it would surely never reach back there. I was then tempted to ask: “What brings this brick here so far from the mine?” The answer to my question was simple: “Look at the trees in this churchyard and see how black they are. So, if the dust can reach so far, then the coal can also fly here”.
Our meeting then proceeded inside the church. Present at the meeting were woman from Machibini, Dubelenkuzi and Siyembeni. Again, they too have never had an opportunity to meet as women to discuss their issues. The women here did stress that they as women face different challenges compared to man. They talked about having much less time to do their chores and the fact that their chores have increased, especially for those who are widows. One woman stood up and made a moving testimony about having to spend 4 hours every single day to fetch water. Most of the time she doesn’t find any from her source, an act she never experienced before the mining operations started at Somkhele. Another woman informed us of how they were bullied into signing to accept to be relocated during the “consultative” process since their father had passed on which led to 32 of their family graves to be relocated. She was later on offered a job within the mine but was later retrenched.
Above: Woman pouring out their hearts sharing experiences of living next to the mine.
CLIMATE CAMP (08-11 DECEMBER 2014)
The Climate Camp was hosted by South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and Groundwork, held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College campus in Durban. The four day event was filled with presentations from Bobby Peak from Groundwork, Professor Patrick Bond and testimonies from community members to mention but a few. One of the days we were taken on a toxic tour of South Durban, led by the award winning activist Desmond De’ Sa, to see where the refineries were and provide us with an opportunity to experience their negative impacts in the communities living closer to them. The majority of participants in this camp were primary school going kids, which is a positive thing because the pollution that the earth is experiencing today will be felt in couple of years to come and they will be old enough to become radical activists. So teaching them about climate change whilst still young will only yield positive results in the future.
Bobby Peak spoke about Changing Earth; stating climate change is just one dimension of global ecological change forced by the massive scale of industrialization powered by the fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas. The scale of change is such that scientist are calling this the beginning of a new geological epoch- The Anthropocene Era. Anthropocene means the human period (in Greek). The Anthropocene is an epoch in which the basic functioning of earth’s ecological systems is decisively influenced by human actions. There are several dimensions to this change including climate change, air pollution, the transformation and erosion of land, interruption of fresh water cycles and extinction of species. These processes are taking place on a very large scale and each interacts with the others to speed up change.
Dr Brown spoke about South Africa’s mining history. Up to the 1860s, South Africa was a mining and agricultural economy, but this all changed with the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley. It was, however, the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886 that launched South Africa as the biggest and richest gold producer in the world. By 1925, South Africa supplied 50% of all the gold produced in the world. It soon became clear that the only way of realizing mining profitably on the Witwatersrand was by securing a large pool of cheap unskilled labour. In the years between 1890 and 1899 the number of African mineworkers rose from 14 000 to 100 000. In March 1912, the President of the Chamber of Mines declared, “We must have labour. The mining industry without labour is as it would be to imagine that you could get milk without cows.’ The development of a cheap labour pool was, however, achieved through a systematic process of impoverishment via a number of taxes which were imposed on Africans, which forced them to seek work in order to pay the taxes, and the 1913 land act, which with the stroke of a pen, reduced indigenous African land ownership (80% of the population) to less than 13% of the land on a patchwork of reserves or ‘homelands’. Unable to eke out a living in the homelands and forced to pay taxes, African males were forced to avail themselves as cheap migrant labour on the mines.
South African mining is still structurally based on migrant labour and this played a significant role in the events that left 44 people dead at Marikana in the North West Province of South Africa, during August 2012 when mineworkers embarked on a wildcat strike that brought the Platinum mining industry to a complete shutdown. The migratory nature of mining impacts on local communities affected by mining in significant ways, and especially with increased unemployment among young people in rural locations.
South Africa’s total reserves remain some of the world’s most valuable, with an estimated worth of R20.3-trillion ($2.5-trillion) according to a Citi Bank report. Overall, the country is estimated to have the world’s fifth-largest mining sector in terms of GDP value and mining will remain a part of the South African economic, social, political and environmental landscape for many years to come. THE BIG QUESTION WAS THEN: HOW MUCH HAVE THESE MINES CONTRIBUTED TO CLIMATE CHANGE?
Patrick Bond then spoke particularly about associating our campaign in the Fuleni and Somkhele communities with climate change since it’s a global phenomenon plus he did get feedback from the people of the two communities during his initial visits that the weather patterns have drastically changed, even worse the repercussion of mining at Somkhele are even felt at Fuleni which is clearly indicative that the more mines KZN has, the worse the weather patterns would become.
FULENI CHIEF’S VISIT TO NTUTHUNGA, OCILWANE & NOVUNULA CONSULTATIVE MEETING (16 DECEMBER 2014)
The 3 villages that will be directly affected by the Fuleni coal mine were waiting with baited breath to be honored with the presence of their elderly Chief Mthethwa at Ocilwane since it’s the central point of the aforementioned villages. Robby Mokgalaka of Groundwork and I made our way to Fuleni in the early hours of the day to be part of all the festivities planned for the day because the Chief does not visit villages as frequently as communities would have loved. Another addition to make this visit is that Chief Mthethwa is not getting younger and, therefore, his agreeing to be part of this meeting adds incredible value. Again at stake is the biggest subject prevailing in the communities, namely the Fuleni coal mine, and the opportunity his visit affords the people to state their position to the Chief directly since he is surrounded by people who are advocating for the opening of the proposed mine of which the communities vehemently oppose.
The weather pattern on the day was very unstable, which is always the case when Chief Mthethwa leaves his house to visit communities. These 3 villages were the last to be visited by the Chief as he was doing his consultative meetings to the villages that will be affected directly and/or indirectly by the mine. Now the open secret to shifting these 3 villages towards the end is because of their unshaken position of openly opposing the mine and the nasty events that Ibutho Coal officials were subjected to when visiting these villages during the process of holding “consultative”/public participation meetings.
Traditionally the Chief will never leave his house to attend a meeting in another village without being fetched by the leaders of that particular village, so in this case Mr. Ndimande, as an elder, was accompanied by the two Indunas from Ocilwane and Ntuthunga2 without the Induna from Novunula and the Mining Committee members both from Ntuthunga2 and Ocilwane, with some people from Novunula coming to witness this auspicious occasion from the venue where everything would be held. There had be rumours spreading around the villages a week before this meeting was to be held that the Chief was not going to attend the meeting with these villages because of known reasons already stated that these three villages are stagnating community development that the mine is going to bring so why must they be honored with the presence of the Chief. This was a well-orchestrated move and it has elements of powerful people within the Mhlali Traditional Authority because indeed the Chief did not attend but the reason was different from the rumours but only the future will make it clear to us as to what really happened and what we should expect in the next engagement with the Chief who has always struck me as impartial when it comes to this subject of Ibutho Coal.
As such rumours gathered momentum and the 3 communities were left with no other option but to send their Mining Committee members to the Chief and notify him of such aberrant news and, in the same sentence, seek clarity and confirmation that the Chief will still be coming. At that meeting all Chief Mthethwa said was: “The only person you should listen to in this regard is me and no one else. I am coming to Ocilwane on the 16th“. The message from the Chief was crystal clear: Go ahead with your preparation for my coming and I will bless you with my presence. Again this proves the fact that tranquility will never be experienced where there is a mine – let alone that in Fuleni it’s only being proposed! What would happen if it were to go through – which will never happen, as there is growing support to stop the Fuleni mine and we are determined to win this battle.
The 16th of December saw the two Indunas, community elders and committee members making their way to go fetch the Chief at his homestead. As they arrive they were received by 5 Indunas from different villages whom the Chief had implored to accompany him to the meeting in Ocilwane. Elders who are permitted to speak directly with Chief Mthethwa went in to speak with Nyambose. Robby and I arrived in Ocilwane after they left and so we waited for an hour or two to hear what is going on. Little by little cars begun to arrive from a distance and suspense grew in everyone. As the cars came in there was no sign of Chief Mthethwa. We all wanted to know, after his promise earlier of coming on this particular day, why he was not here.
As the community gathered closer to hear how the trip to the Chief’s house went, the despair in the faces of community members was rubbed off by the smiles and positive attitude shown by the contingent that had gone to the Mthethwa homestead. Phila Ndimande began his address with a positive smile and refrained from giving details. He was followed by Mr. Ndimande, a community elder who spoke directly with Nyambose to elaborate. Mr. Ndimande was eloquent, firm and left no room for questions. In his address to the gathered audience he stated they are disappointed that Chief Mthethwa couldn’t make it but the reason given to them was valid. He said: “I had the opportunity to sit with the Chief and he, himself, is disappointed that he couldn’t make it.” He continued, “Our Chief said he had prepared everything to leave and even called on some Indunas to accompany him. They received us when we arrived at the homestead. His reason was due to flu he was suffering and the unpredictable weather being like this will only exacerbate his condition plus he is getting old”. The Chief then, through the contingent, extended his humble apology and advised the community to come up with an alternative date before Christmas and forward it to him so that he prepares to come and address them and hear from them. “Bathethwa, the Chief issued us a warning, he stated that we have to be ready for him and must reimburse him with his petrol money not like in another village where he was not reimbursed which opened an opportunity for Ibutho Coal to offered him petrol money which later would be seen as selling the tribe” said Mr. Ndimande, who sheepishly laughed, and said “ I assured the Chief that such things won’t happen here because men of these villages have more than one wife” which translates they can afford things. The next proposed date was then agreed to be the 21st of December, which was to be forwarded to the Chief the very next day. This being a very busy time of year, the meeting never took place on the 21st and so it will have to take place in the New Year.
SOUTHERN AFRICAN GREEN REVOLUTIONARY COUNCIL (S.A.G.R.C) AGM (16-19 DECEMBER 2014)
S.A.G.R.C held its Annual General Meeting at the River Lodge in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. This meeting is usually held to review the current year’s programs and/or projects that the organizations have been implementing. Also to check whether they were effective or not and create solutions to improve if needs be. The Southern African Green Revolutionary Council played a pivotal role in the formation of MACUA, in December 2012. So, as the national leaders of MACUA, we were invited to facilitate the item proposed at the National Co-ordinating Committee of MACUA that we should register as an organization so that we could be able source funding to properly infiltrate MACUA’s programs in all the provinces where we are visible.
At the moment MACUA is operating as a loose network without an office and its actions are funded by ActionAid South Africa. S.A.G.R.C. took a decision at this meeting to leave MACUA as a loose network that creates a platform for communities affected by mining to unify their struggles. S.A.G.R.C. categorically stated that they are against the idea of registering MACUA as an organization because it will become too dependent on donors who then come with their own terms of references which will later cripple the functioning of MACUA. I personally agree with this and as the Global Environmental Trust, we should take the same direction, as we have been championing MACUA principles in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.