THE WILD, WILD COAST

28 April 2016

Assassins disguised as police officers. Violence. Intimidation. Bribery. A close-knit community torn apart by outsiders with ulterior motives. It sounds like the latest Hollywood blockbuster but it’s taking place on the idyllic Wild Coast. And it’s been going on for more than 10 years.

Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Radebe was shot 8 times by hitmen parading as police officers outside his home in Mbizana, on the Wild Coast. Bazooka was the chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), a community organisation fighting against the proposed open-cast mining of the dunes in the Xolobeni area of the Eastern Cape by Australian company Mineral Commodity Limited (MRC) and its local subsidiary Transworld Energy & Minerals (TEM).  The same communities are also resisting the proposed construction of the Wild Coast N2 toll highway through their lands and adjacent to the proposed mining site. 

Many feel that this was just the latest of the increasingly desperate and underhanded measures being taken   in an attempt to intimidate those who oppose the mining of the titanium-rich dunes of the Amadiba coastal community. A small group of the community, including the traditional chief of the Amadiba, have been bought off with cash and directorships on the boards of the companies involved in the hopes that they would influence their neighbours into supporting the mining. Lunga Baleni, chief of the Amadiba, was gifted a 4x4 pick-up truck, so that he could use his influence to turn the tide in their favour. However, this move has backfired as he has now lost the respect of the community and been branded a ‘sell out’.

But their methods have a more sinister and violent side when the lure of the carrot fails. Sadly, Bazooka was not the only person to fall while trying to save the land he loves. In 2003 Mandoda Ndovela, was killed after criticising the proposed project and publically returning the cash and clothes that the mining company have given him. At a 2008 event organised by politicians to celebrate the granting of mining rights, students of Xolobeni Junior Secondary School were sjambokked by police after refusing to sing. More recently, on 19th of December, a group of armed men parked their car close to the village, and fired volleys into the air before driving away. They repeated the act the next night. A week later three villagers were ambushed by men wielding knobkerries and knives. The attack resulted in the villagers suffering a broken arm, a deep gash to the head and a broken leg. Then, from midnight until 2am on December 30, an armed group went from house to house banging on doors and firing guns. Sadly, these are just a few of the acts the community has endured while protecting the land they live on.

The mines and their supporters have been quick to label these incidents as inter-community violence as a way to absolve themselves of responsibility for the violence, intimidation and destruction of a cohesive community. And while those promoting the agendas of the mining companies would like it to seem as if those who oppose the mining are in the minority, this is not true.  The proposed mining is strongly opposed by the vast majority of the local residents that would be directly affected by it.  The small group of people that support the mine either have a vested in interest in it (such as Chief Baleni and his family) or live far away from the site.

In another case of attempted intimidation of environmental activists, a lorry belonging to Bongani Pearce was set alight near Somkhele in Kwazulu-Natal. The attack came hours after he led a community march to the local council to protest the illegal benefits certain traditional leaders are receiving from the large coal mines owned by Johannesburg-based Petmin, who also appear to have bought the support of influential community members to further their own ends.

But this is not just a local problem. All across the world, those who defend the very earth we live on and are entirely dependent upon, are persecuted by large corporations, investors and even governments. To them these individuals who risk their very lives are nothing more than an obstacle in their path to more ill-gotten gains. Every week at least two people are killed for taking a stand against environmental destruction*. Some are killed by police under the guise of ‘restoring peace’ at a protest while others, like Bazooka, are blatantly assassinated by hitmen.

In Honduras, acknowledged as the most dangerous country for environmental activists, Berta Cáceres and her close friend and colleague, Nelson García were assassinated in their family homes. Berta had recently been honoured with the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for successfully pressuring the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam project at the Río Gualcarque. Her actions and those of her fellow comrades, like Nelson, prevented the forced removal of group of people from the land they’ve called home for millennia.

Those who knew Bazooka, Berta, Nelson and the hundreds of murdered Earth defenders have said that the tragic death of their comrades will not defeat their cause. Rather, it will strengthen their resolve and ensure that justice will prevail. For those who have fallen and for Mother Earth.

Cullinan & Associates are representing the same communities in a related case against SANRAL and their proposed construction of a toll road that would be used to truck out minerals from Xolobeni.

https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/how-many-more/




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