Anti-mining tensions flare up among Somkhele communities surrounding the mine
By Tamlyn Jolly
MORE than 100 Mpukunyoni community members feared for their lives on Monday morning after being shot at by what they thought were live rounds amid a peaceful protest outside Somkhele mine.
The 120-strong crowd of protesters blocked the road between the mine shaft and washing area and attempted to hand over a memorandum of grievances to Tendele Mining CEO Jan du Preez.
‘Mine management wants us to air our grievances through the Mpukunyoni Traditional Council, but we want the mine to deal with us directly,’ said one protester.
Some community members live a mere 100m from the mine and have, for some time, complained of blasting causing cracks in their houses. They also say mine dust negatively impacts their health, their animals’ health and their livelihoods.
In a previous statement, Tendele Mining said community complaints are dealt with through its well-established complaints system and every one is investigated.
It said the mine complies with regulations of a minimum of 100m between houses and mining. It also has a network of pollution and seismic monitoring stations to ensure dust is within acceptable limits and to identify potential threats to dwellings.
‘To date there has been no indication that cracks in houses are caused by blasting or other mining activity,’ the statement said.
‘We were shocked and scared when the police started shooting at us,’ said an eyewitness, who was among many who were convinced they had been shot at with live ammunition.
The protesters feel aggrieved that Du Preez refused to accept their memorandum or listen to their complaints.
Speaking on behalf of the Empangeni POP Unit, SAPS spokesperson Captain Mbongeni Mdlalose said live bullets were not fired, but a stun grenade was used to disperse protesters.
‘The protest was peaceful but the protesters were blocking roads at the mine, disturbing the peace and preventing work from getting done.’
While Du Preez said the mine cannot comment on the protest or subsequent municipal meetings as it was not involved, access to Area 1 was blocked for five hours on Monday morning by ‘aggressive community members’.
‘The mine was willing to engage with the group through recognised structures on condition order was restored and operations could continue.
The mine requested SAPS intervention and the crowd was safely dispersed.’
He said he awaits feedback from a seven-hour meeting with Indunas, traditional authority members and civil society groups conducted on 31 May, at which failings in the current communication structure were discussed.
‘The mine is always open to meet with community members and discuss issues, negating the need for a march to the facility,’ concluded Du Preez.
This article appeared yesterday in the Zululand Observer