By Richard Compton
Gladman Buthelezi: ‘Just what do our leaders think they are doing encouraging this Ibutho coal mining company in this sacred area? They have paid no attention to this region’s rich traditional and legal heritage.’
“THIS is an injustice and the South African government should never be associated with desecrating one of South Africa’s most prized natural areas and being complicit in what will amount to the forced removal of thousands of its rural people from their homesteads.”
As one of KwaZuluNatal’s best known former senior conservators and administrators Gladman Buthelezi spoke with indignation when confronted with the proposed Fuleni coal mine to be located on the boundary of the iMfolozi Game Reserve.
What is this nonsense?
“What is this nonsense? Do those among us not understand what iMfolozi stands for? This was King Shaka’s and the Zulu nation’s royal hunting ground. It has always been protected — and must remain protected for future generations,” he said.
He had spent 28 years of his life in conservation and said he wasn’t prepared to see this “sacrosanct” area be destroyed by some “filthy, destructive coal mine”.
“My dream was to ensure that wilderness would slowly evolve for our future African generations. I hold dear to this dream.”
Buthelezi has known and worked for pretty much everyone worth knowing in KZN conservation, from the former KwaZulu government’s Directorate of Nature Conservation (formerly the Bureau of Natural Resources) under the highly respected and influential Nick Steele, to the Natal Parks Board and until very recently served as executive director of commercial operations for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
He was also very well acquainted with the late Dr Ian Player and the legendary field ranger Magqubu Ntombela, having been on trails with them in the Wilderness area of iMfolozi Game Reserve. He ran a number of wilderness trails, both in iMfolozi and in the Maloti Drakensberg World Heritage Site and attended two Wilderness congresses with Player, in Port Elizabeth and in Alaska.
“Just what do our leaders think they are doing with giving encouragement to this Ibutho coal mining company in this sacred area?
“They have paid no attention to this region’s rich traditional and legal heritage. It’s almost if they don’t care or are unaware of its history. This must be stopped.”
Sufficient specialists have already documented the irreparable damage that this Fuleni coal mine would do to both the iMfolozi Wilderness and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park itself.
“I don’t want to discuss seismic vibrations, coal dust, alien plant infestation, water pollution and particularly the impact of much of this on the community’s health. These are just incontestable facts. Collectively they will demolish the ‘sense of place’ of the entire Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, let alone the wilderness area.”
His passion, he said, had been encouraged by the “brave and informed” opinions of two senior Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife conservators, Oscar Mthimkhulu and Jabulani Ngubane, who both went public in their condemnation of the mine’s location. In this praise he “saluted” the efforts of the iMfolozi Conservation Wilderness Alliance (ICWA) community agitator Sifiso Dladla who, he said, has worked tirelessly in exposing both the government’s and mining company’s disdain for the rights of the community living in and around Fuleni in the Mpukunyoni traditional authority.
“We must all take great heart from their voices. They are what I call real leaders.
“This is what our people and country need; our own people to be heard when something is wrong. We must never be scared to speak justice when justice is needed.”
Buthelezi also expressed his dismay that the Ingonyama Trust Board had “rolled over” and despite telling Ibutho Coal to stop prospecting in the area, nothing had happened to enforce this injunction.
“They own this land on behalf of our traditional leaders and rural communities. What is the point of stating that mining prospecting or scoping is illegal and then doing nothing?
“This not only encourages the mining company but also has a terrible effect on the morale of thousands of community members who live in the path of this mine.”
Commenting on the mine’s recent statement that it would be reviewing its plans, Buthelezi said this was not enough.
“No! They must abandon this site. Even better, the government or the Department of Environmental Affairs and Mineral Resources must simply scrap the idea and tell them to look elsewhere.”
This article appeared in the Witness on 28 December, 2015