Police clashed with local people in the Xolobeni region of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province following a meeting between community leaders and minister of mineral resources Gwede Mantashe over the proposed construction of a titanium mine.
The national government has backed the project since 2007, when Transworld, a subsidiary of Australian company Mineral Commodities, applied for a mining permit in the area. However, the North Gauteng High Court ruled in November 2018 that a permit could only be granted if the project received the approval of local people, who have consistently opposed the project.
Resistance has been co-ordinated by the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), which claimed earlier this month that 68 of the 74 households in the area affected by the proposed mine have voiced their disapproval of the project.
On Wednesday, Mantashe visited the area to convene a meeting with the ACC and other local residents, but scenes quickly turned violent. According to The Daily Maverick, a man wearing an ACC t-shirt claimed to be a member of the committee, and told Mantashe “we have agreed that we want mining, but a white person came and told us to disagree.”
However, assembled ACC members began to whistle and voice their disapproval of the man’s comment, and individuals were reported to have quickly thrown chairs at Mantashe and his entourage.
In response, local police fired tear gas into the crowd, which quickly dispersed. A video posted to the ACC’s Facebook page shows officers dragging an individual to the ground and pulling them out of the tent where the meeting was held.
Mantashe quickly fled the scene, and the meeting collapsed.
The ACC has identified the speaker at the event as Simlindile Matsheleza, who claimed to represent a number of villages who declined to attend the event. The group has accused him of being paid by mining companies to lie about the intentions of the non-attending villagers “and split Amadiba”.
Following the meeting, Mantashe called for an “independent survey” into the feasibility of the project, which has angered ACC leaders who believe the minister is ignoring both the law and the high court’s ruling.
“Mantashe’s survey is unheard of in South Africa,” said the ACC in a statement. “It has no basis in law. It has nothing to do with the Pretoria court decision on 22 November that granted the community the right to ‘full and informed consent’.
“It clearly transpires that Mr Mantashe will grant the mining licence no matter what. This is what is asked of him, because maybe he is not a mining minister after the elections. He will then do it even if this is unlawful and just let it cook in court.”
The clash is the latest in a series of violent episodes to hit Xolobeni in relation to the mine.
In 2016, then-ACC chair Sikhosipho Rhadebe was assassinated, reportedly for his opposition to the mine, yet no arrest has been made. In the days following the meeting, locals known to be in support of the mine have also claimed to have received death threats.
The Department of Mineral Resources aims to complete its survey within weeks, although how it will be conducted, and whether local residents will accept its results, remain unclear.