This article appeared in the Mercury on Tuesday 28 April, 2015
By Tony Carnie
RURAL villagers on the boundary of Africa’s oldest wilderness area are outraged after finding “demolition stickers” on their front doors – apparently placed there by a mining company that wants to dynamite giant coal pits underneath their homes.
Residents of the Fuleni area on the southern border of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve said several numbered white stickers had been placed on the front doors of homes in Nthuthunga village last week.
Nthuthunga is one of several villages in the area that have been earmarked for a major opencast anthracite coal mine by the Johannesburg-based Ibutho coal mining group.
“People are very angry. They are crying because they have been told that the houses with these stickers on will have to be demolished and the people moved away,” said Billy Mnqondo, a resident of the nearby Ocilwane village.
Mnqondo said residents were told by an Ibutho consultant: “If there is a sticker you must know that you will have to move.”
Sifiso Dladla, provincial co-ordinator of the Mining Affected Communities United in Action, said he was astonished that the mining company could place stickers on people’s doors when the environmental impact assessment process had barely started.
“How can they have the audacity to put these stickers on people’s homes without a proper consultation process? How will these people be able to sleep now that they know they have been identified for relocation?
“Where will they go to? What is the psychological effect of finding one of these stickers on your home? What compensation will they get for the loss of their homes, their grazing land, ploughing land, ancestral graves and other infrastructure in their communities?” asked Dladla.
He said it was apparent that the mining company knew exactly how many homes had been targeted for relocation even though Ibutho had failed to publicly disclose how many residents could be affected.
By examining maps of the proposed mining footpath Dladla said it appeared that up to 5 000 people could be affected.
“Will the tribal authority be able to provide alternative land for so many people?” he asked, noting that members of the Ocilwane community had already been relocated from the Empangeni area in the late 1960s.
“When that happened, the magistrate assured them they would never have to move again because it was unfair to relocate people twice in one generation.”
Kirsten Youens, an attorney representing residents of the Fuleni area and environmental groups, said the legal consultation process was fatally flawed.
In a letter to senior officials of the Department of Mineral Affairs Youens said mining companies were obliged to consult property owners adequately so that they were in a proper position to make informed decisions and to challenge administrative action if necessary.
“Yet as we write this letter,” Ibutho Coal was “informing residents of the Fuleni area that they are to be evicted from their homes and marking houses that are to be removed. This is not in any way, a procedurally fair consultation process”.
She noted that the Constitutional Court had repeated in a recent mining case that affected communities required adequate notice and should be given a reasonable opportunity to make representations to the government or to a mining company.
“What Ibutho is doing is acting as though its obtaining rights over Fuleni Reserve is a foregone conclusion and that any consultation with the community is not necessary.”
Youens has called on the mining department to ensure that all stickers are removed immediately and to provide proof that the Ingonyama Trust has been consulted about the proposal.
“Unless you comply, we will be compelled to seek a mandamus from the high court to direct you to comply with the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.”
Meanwhile, the Wildlife and Environment Society of SA has also expressed “deep concern” that a new environmental scoping report on the Fuleni mining proposal failed to specifically address the significant impacts mining would have on the neighbouring Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
Wessa said it was concerned that the proposed mine had the potential to “severely and irreversibly impact this flagship reserve” as well as the Fuleni community.
It was also concerned that toxic and acidic mine drainage from coal-mining operations would flow into Lake St Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland world heritage park.
It called on the mining department to honour previous pledges in 2013 not to allow mining in areas considered to be sacrosanct because of their unique conservation value.
Ibutho Coal and the Department of Mineral Affairs have not responded to requests for comment.