13 – 15 March 2016
SOMKHELE COMMUNITY MARCH AGAINST CORRUPTION AND COAL MINE
By China Ngubane, CCS
On Sunday 13 March the Mpukunyoni Community Property Association (MPCA) gathered for a media briefing regarding the march planned for the following day. Bongani Pearce; convener of the march, also Chairperson for MCPA informed that preparations were almost complete, the memorandum laying all Mpukunyoni demands has been agreed upon and ready for delivery. Few logistical arrangements were still to be finalised including ensuring readiness for the protest march e.g. marshalls, sound system, media and refreshments (water or fruits).
Pearce briefed that people will sign a petition where all supporting names will appear and ensure that all 32 villages are represented. “We also need transport support, people are in full support and they take it that the march will represent their voice. We also acknowledge that many people will be at work tomorrow, and many of those that will attend are the unemployed. We expect over five thousand people to participate but due to work, shortage of transport, fear and the obvious sabotage by the Chieftainship our numbers may be lower” he said.
He added that the march destined for Mpukunyoni Traditional Council (Emgeza) will take off from Esigqogqogqweni at 10am where the MEC Nomsa Dube is expected to receive the memorandum at 12pm. This will be a peaceful march, we will not carry weapons, we will not insult or force anyone to attend and Police will help us maintain order.
Pearce, while addressing the media, said the Chief has been given an indefinite leave by the Nomathiya Royal family. “We are also saying the traditional council must fall, we want government to allow us to elect a new traditional council. We are lucky that the term for the incumbent traditional council elapses this year, there should therefore be a caretaker or interim committee that takes over until the next elections. We want all keys for public properties (e.g. Traditional Court and community Halls) to be surrounded to us by tomorrow, we will keep the keys until such time government helps us find a solution. We are claiming back what is rightfully ours, he added.
Monday 14 March 2016; the much awaited day come with a drizzling weather. About 300 participants joined the march supported by some members form the Nomathiya Royal House, 32 communities affected by Tendele Coal Mining, and social movements including the Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA, Mfolozi Communities Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), Women affected by Mining (WoMin), and Scholars from the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) – UKZN.
While addressing march Pearce said the march was very much sabotaged, we are challenged by the numerous misleading radio announcements saying the march will not take place. However Pearce was impressed by the turn out despite the all threats. The march however delayed given some radio announcements (that morning) that the march will not proceed, it was then expected that more people will join along the way and some may not make it due to confusion.
As marchers were preparing to take off, police informed conveners that the march will not proceed and that it is illegal. This was received with acute mass resistance and people vowed to continue. Leaders of the march convinced members that the march will proceed, that it’s legally approved and that police are wasting their time by trying to prevent the march and instilling fear in people.
The march started off by a prayer, and slogans followed expressing discomfort, discontent and frustration against the coal mine. People were complaining about corruption by local authorities and the mine who continue to benefit at the expense of people’s livelihoods. The message was clear that people have been pushed to a cutting edge – a point where people cannot take it anymore; enough is enough.
The march was peaceful with no disturbances. After a two hour walk it reached its destination where some anti-protest cohorts where gathering. The march was stopped just a few metres off the main road; away from the designated venue (Mgeza). Among them were the police, some Royal family and traditional council members.
The Mpukunyoni Mayor; Mr Nyawo stopped the march and asked to receive the memorandum from the road. This follows that he did not recognise the legality of the march and this came not as a surprise to disgruntled protesters. The Kwa Msane Police Station Commander warned conveners to be careful of a strong opposition to the march including a lot of people carrying guns. It was alleged that among these were members of the Royal Family and Traditional Council members.
Sboniso Mkwanazi (SM), a Royal Family member said that they were not aware that the Chief was suspended and that there is no letter suctioning the Chief to be on leave or that he is no longer wanted. If there are such problems either in the Royal House we call every family member and discuss. The Chairperson of the Royal House is here, if there is such a need this should come through him so we can find a solution.
As the march was denied entry to Mgeza Hall, people were agitating that they have come to present their cries to Mgeza; not in the street but by the Hall. Pearce took the opportunity to address the crowd and reaffirmed that the march is legal therefore people’s right to assemble must be respected. He appealed for Police to uphold their duty and protect the march. It appeared that Police had limited control over the situation. There was an uproar; SM bullied through the crowd to Mr Pearce who was still in his car. He opened Pearce’s bakkie-door. Keys and books and in his (Pearce) possession were grabbed and thrown out – while threatening to kill. Pearce was forced to remain in his car to avoid further attack.
Entry to the Hall was completely denied as the ‘anti-protest’ team stood firm, they did not want to allow even the reading of the memorandum saying there is no one from the authorities to sign. After an hour of negotiations Pearce finally read the memorandum whilst in his car through a loud hailer.
And sadly during his presentation some media people including scholars were directly threatened from taking footage.
The memorandum was later received on the street and signed without comment from the MEC – COGTA.
The following day (15 March 2016) Pearce reported that 8 hours after the march about three suspects entered his compound, and that he was awaken by the noise of their movements. Just a few minutes later he heard gun-shots. As he came out to inspect hid yard – his truck was in a thick fire blaze and a community office had its windows broken.
A number of community members including women and youth, feel that the march was a huge success given the intimidating environment. They almost all share the sentiment that the memorandum will be responded to in 14 days, and that the community will decide what’s next thereafter.