Pietermaritzburg – A peaceful demonstration outside the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, on Monday, 15 May, highlights 10 years of conflict between the Somkhele community (part of Mpukunyoni) and Petmin’s Tendele coal mine. The matter being heard concerned three interdicts issued against the Mpukunyoni Community Property Association (MCPA) and chairman, Bongani Pearce. Judge Radebe confirmed the interdict, permanently barring chairman, Bongani Pearce and the MCPA from protesting.
In December 2016, the MCPA and Tendele mine signed a “road map” memorandum as a foundation for further engagement on human rights violations and business opportunities. This included an agreement to use Mpukuyoni trucks to transport coal to Richards Bay. When Tendele mine reneged on a deal and refused to use MCPA trucks, the drivers blocked the entrance to the mine to protest against the mine management for breaking its promises yet again. Nine drivers were arrested and spent four days in Mtubatuba jail. They were released without being charged, confirming that they were innocent of wrongdoing and that the protest was peaceful and without damage to property. Soon afterwards the mine negotiated a contract with the Mpukunyoni Business Association (MBA).
MCPA’s legal counsel, Edwin Gumbi, says Tendele’s push to have the interdict confirmed is be able “to continue to abuse the vulnerable communities and block them from fighting for basic human rights as enshrined in South African Constitution”.
The Somkhele community has many grievances against the mine for a long list of human rights issues, as well as environmental, economic and social injustices. One of the major issues is lack of water, which has caused great suffering and hardship, particularly for the women of Somkhele. Gumbi says the high incidence of respiratory diseases in Somkhele warrants thorough investigation. Sufferers blame the coal dust from Tendele mine.
In 2016, the South African Human Rights Commission conducted hearings in Somkhele and will be returning to the community in the next few weeks to complete is hearings before issuing a report with its findings