What actually happened when Minister Gwede Mantashe and the DMR visited Somkhele/Mpukunyoni
26 September 2018 - For years the people of Somkhele in northern KwaZulu-Natal, had tried without success to engage with the various ministers and the Department of Mineral Resources of South Africa. On the 22nd of September minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe visited Mpukunyoni where Somkhele is situated. On Saturday the door was almost shut in their faces again as all attempts were made to make sure the community were not given a chance to express their collective pain. The people of Somkhele finally got their chance, but this would not have happened had the community not vocally made the demand to present their issues and be heard by the Minister. This would surely have been an expensive opportunity missed by the government. The Minister and his department had all the intensions to sabotage their own visit, and reduce it to a one-dimensional engagement.
The morning session was held at the Tendele site, where CEO Jan Du Preez hyped the urgency of the mine expansion. According to him if the mine fails to expand in the next couple of months, then the lights and machines will be switched off in June of 2019. He also made mention of families who are resisting the hostile mine removals. The current operation by Tendele has already displaced and destructed countless homes and livelihoods; taking away and polluting land and water, vital self-sustainability sources for this rural farming community.
Mantashe warned the mine about creating different beneficiary packages for the community and the traditional leaders, and said this has created tension between the two community stakeholders. There were community members who spoke openly against the Tendele mining operation, and blamed them for pollution and damaged lands.
The main gathering was at the soccer field in Somkhele where a huge marquee was erected. Tensions went through the roof when the session was declared closed after the Minister’s address - a move inspired by the possession of power, and which clearly undermined the community’s grievances. Police were called inside the venue to calm the situation. Leaders of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) managed to calm the volatile situation by confronting the minister and his team to allow people to be heard.
The people of Somkhele who have been negatively affected by mining in their land for years without any intervention from government, finally got an opportunity to state their cases and narrate their suffering to the minister. A 56 year old mister Ndlovu, broke down and wept as he narrated how, after being removed from his home, he struggled to lay daily bread on the table for his children.
More testimonies followed as the community spoke of their suffering resulting from mining in the area. One woman had with her, a bottled sample of polluted water from her tank at home. All the stories were about how Tendele is impacting on people’s human rights and the negative impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the greater Mpukunyoni area. Affected community members, who have lost their sources of income and have had their lives and health destroyed by living in close proximity to the mine, spoke openly about their suffering.
The community stood together with a sense of a shared pain. Not a single person praised the mine, and people repeatedly called for justice to be served. There was anger, frustration, and for some the numbness that results from excessive emotional pain.
One of the things that became clear is that, the mine has succeeded in splitting the community into a few beneficiaries who are decision makers on one side and the masses who are left with nothing on the other side. As the situation stands, the department promised to assemble a task team on Tuesday that will go back to the communities to investigate the issues that were raised on Saturday. When minister Mantashe was questioned about a precise time-frame for these engagements, he would not commit himself.
The visit to Somkhele by the minister and his department preceded his much publicised and dramatic visit to Xolobeni, where human rights attorney Richard Spoor was arrested, community activist Nonhle Mbuthuma was tear-gassed, and protesting community members were prevented from entering the venue.
Sabelo Dladla - MCEJO - 083 218 4529
Bongani Pearce - Mpukunyoni Community Property Association & MCEJO - 079 636 5892
Medical Ndziba - Siyaphakama, MCEJO & Womin - 071 497 5228