A further two-year moratorium on mining rights in the South African province of Eastern Cape has not eased tensions between Australian mining company Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources (TEM) and local residents, as concerns over the availability of information and personal safety of the operation prevail.

Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe last week extended the ban, which had been due to expire in December this year, following public opposition to and legal action against the proposed TEM Xolobeni titanium mine. The moratorium, which also prohibits authorities from awarding new mining licenses in the region, was put in place to encourage both sides to reach an agreement before mine work begins.

“While the application by TEM was accepted by the department and was being processed, the first gazetted moratorium effectively stopped the clock on all actions to be taken by the department in further processing the application,” said Department of Mineral Resources spokesperson Solomon Phetla.

However, local residents have claimed that the moratorium operates in favour of TEM, as the company will have more time to prepare itself ahead of a backlash should the licence be granted. The Department of Mineral Resources is also facing a separate court challenge over its right to grant mining licences at Xolobeni, and critics have claimed that the moratorium has granted Mantashe and his department time to prepare an appeal in case the ruling goes against them.

The ban follows months of local unrest at the proposed mine. The Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), whose chair Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe was assassinated in 2016 following his opposition to a separate mining application made by Perth-based Mineral Commodities Limited, has launched legal action against TEM. Richard Spoor, who represented the ACC, argued that local residents were left ‘completely in the dark’ about potential impacts of the operation on them, and that should the company be granted permission to mine, residents would be displaced from their homes and agricultural land.

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, who also represented the group, said: “The government is about to make a crucial decision to allow a mining company to go into that area and disrupt people’s lives. They could only make that decision with informed consent from my client. Indigenous people have the right to have their say. We know here that this mining operation will be disruptive of the cultural lives.”

The TEM, meanwhile, has welcomed the moratorium. Zamile ‘Madiba’ Qunya, founder of TEM partner Xolco, said that the ban offered both sides valuable time to discuss their disagreements and come to a conclusion.