On Monday morning, 22 May 2017, Tendele mine’s security guards removed six Somkhele community members from protecting ancestral graves that are being threatened by earth moving equipment at KwaQubuka, where the mine is expanding. The six descendants were taken to the mine management and the police were called in.
There is no gate, signage or security at the entrance to the KwaQubuka site to indicate that people are not allowed to enter the property. Several homesteads on the KwaQubuka site are still occupied and occupants and visitors have access.
There were concerns that the six would be arrested but they were released in the late afternoon. They held firm in their argument that they have every right to visit their ancestral graves and that they were on site to ensure that the mine was not damaging or destroying graves, as it has previously done.
Amafa, responsible for managing the cultural heritage of KwaZulu-Natal, was contacted to take urgent action to ensure no more graves will be destroyed or damaged. Amafa is currently gathering information to investigate numerous reports of graves and heritage violations against Tendele mine.
Since 2007, Petmin’s Tendele coal mine, near the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, has ignored regulations and agreements relating to the exhumation of graves to make way for their mining operations.
In February 2017, archaeologist Gavin Anderson visited the community and explained the rights of the community and the responsibilities of Tendele mine regarding the exhumation and reburial of graves. Anderson’s follow-up report registered shock at the condition of the graveyards he visited during his brief site visit. He recommended that the community request Amafa’s intervention.
On 23 March 2017, Bongani Pearce, Chairman of the Mpukunyoni Community Property Association (MCPA) wrote to Amafa requesting their assistance.
On 17 May 2017, after engaging with the mine management, Amafa’s Annie van de Venter Radford, responded to Pearce confirming that Amafa had engaged with Tendele’s management, stating: “All new exhumations have been halted until an archaeologist is appointed.”
Previous residents of KwaQubuka report that Tendele’s earthmoving has resulted in the destruction of numerous graves. On Thursday, after two big blasts during the day, expectations were that heavy vehicles would operate over the weekend. Concerned families sent members to keep watch over their graveyards on the KwaQubuka site. Though no vehicles have been operating since Thursday, the families intend continuing with their vigil.
What took place on Monday is another violation of human rights. The South African Human Rights Commission conducted hearings in Somkhele 2016 and will be returning to the community in the next few weeks to complete is hearings before issuing its findings. A focus will be on the gross mishandling of the graves by the mine as well as other human rights abuses.