By Sheila Berry
This morning an angry but well-behaved crowd of well over a thousand Fuleni residents forced the Regional Mining Development Environmental Committee (RMDEC) to abort their site visit to Fuleni for Ibutho Coal’s proposed open cast mine on the boundary of the iMfolozi Wilderness Area. The site visit would have familiarised RMDEC with the area before the meeting tomorrow, at 10h30, at Enseleni Nature Reserve, KZN, to hear submissions from I&APs and their lawyers to substantiate their comments and objections to the Fuleni mine.
In the early hours of the morning, irate Fuleni residents blocked the main road to Ocilwane with rocks and tyres, which they set alight to create a barricade to prevent vehicles entering Fuleni. Ocilwane is the village that will be
most affected by the proposed coal mine. The police eventually managed to enlist assistance from march convenor, Phila Ndimande, when he arrived at the scene en route to the demonstration he had organised in Ocilwane. Phila, together with other Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) activists and researchers from the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) – UKZN, managed to persuade the local residents to assist with removing the rocks and burning tyres.
Once the road was cleared of obstacles, the people surged on to the road and created a human barricade to prevent vehicles crossing the bridge. They held a big banner that spanned the road saying: WE WILL NOT MOVE. When the RMDEC team arrived, a stand-off ensued but eventually they had to concede defeat and turn around and drive back to Enseleni.
Billy Mnqondo, the other march convenor and co-founder of MCEJO, explained that, in 1963, his family was one of many families forcibly removed from their traditional land near Mpangeni to Ocilwane to make way for the Owen Sitole Agricultural College. At the time, the local magistrate promised they would never be relocated again. According to Billy “Forced relocation is not something a family should ever have to experience. The Ocilwane community is adamant that no one is prepared to move to make way for the Fuleni coal mine. When we say No, we mean No! We definitely will not move.”
Phila Ndimande expressed surprise and gratitude for the extent of the opposition to Ibutho Coal. He was initially unaware the blockade was to prevent the RMDEC team entering the area. “MCEJO’s focus has been on the seven villages directly affected by the proposed mine. It was heartening to discover today how many villages and people do not want the mine,” Phila commented.
Over the past few weeks there have been many protests and demonstrations in the area. A recent protest was sparked by lack of water. The current devastating drought has left much of KZN without water and climate change is expected to make the situation much worse. The Fuleni residents find it incomprehensible and irresponsible that, under these conditions, the government appears ready to agree to the new thirsty Ibutho Coal mine that will steal their water like the existing Somkhele mine steals water from the Somkhele communities. The Fuleni communities are also feeling the impacts.
MCEJO opposes coal-related climate change and questions the obvious disregard the government has for international protocols and agreements it has signed to reduce green house gas emissions. It casts serious doubt on whether one can put any trust in the government if this is their attitude. Fuleni residents have also been angered by strangers coming into the area unannounced. This week the Department of Agriculture sent work teams to drill boreholes. Given the experience of the Fuleni residents with Ibutho Coal, when their contractors were digging boreholes all over the place without any explanation or consent, the Fuleni residents have learned not to trust or welcome strangers.
Earlier this week a young woman from SA, attached to Uthungulu municipality, was sent packing after she was discovered going door-to-door gathering data about the number of people in certain households. She was not wearing her identification bib, which immediately aroused suspicions that she was working under cover for Ibutho Coal to gather information in anticipation of tomorrow’s meeting. There are good grounds for suspicion. Today an elderly woman at Shayamoya appears to have been tricked by an Ibutho Coal representative into signing a deal to move from her house. MCEJO is busy investigating.
Attached is the Memorandum MCEJO would have presented to the RMDEC team at the end of the Ocilwane demonstration which never took place because of the blockade. Lebo Ngobeni will now be reading it at the RMDEC meeting tomorrow and presenting it to the RMDEC chairperson.
MCEJO is a community based organisation established in November 2015 to coordinate activities like the successful Isolesizwe Film Festival, on 28 February 2016, and various projects in Fuleni including their current clean-up campaign.
MCEJO’s slogan is “Nothing about us and our land without us.”