Minister admits consultation process ‘flawed’

MINERALS and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica has for the first time admitted that the consultation process into the planned multi-billion rand titanium mining project at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast was “flawed”.

Sonjica’s comment came after a heated meeting at Xolobeni on Friday, where AmaMpondo king Mpondomini Sigcau threw his weight behind the drive to stop the mining of pristine dunes in the area.

Speaking through his lawyer, Votani Majola, Sigcau said he chose tourism over mining, and demanded that the licence to mine the dunes be withdrawn. He also demanded that Sonjica institute an investigation into the planned mining project.

Majola said Sigcau was upset that “no proper procedures were taken”, and that traditional leaders were not consulted on the project.

Sonjica said she was “disappointed but happy that the meeting with the community did take place”. “I am disappointed because most of the things said here today, I did not know,” she said.

Afterwards, she told journalists: “The whole consultation (process into the mining) was flawed. Now I know things I did not know; something is not right, and I have to correct it.” Sonjica’s admission has thrown the planned mining project into disarray, with one legal expert saying that whatever steps were taken by the Department of Minerals and Energy, the mining licence would have to be withdrawn first.

The licence to mine comes into effect next month.

During the heated meeting, Majola said Sigcau was “very upset and viewed the decision by Sonjica and her department that Australian company Mineral Resources Commodities (MRC) and its BEE partner Xolobeni Empowerment Company (Xolco) be granted a mining licence, as a sign of disrespect”.

“The way they did it means that they have raped the land of the king,” said Majola, to the applause of the villagers.

Majola said on numerous occasions the king had wanted to hold talks with MRC and Xolco, after he had met members of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (who oppose the mining), but this had never happened. The king had been against the mining project from the start, because “the people that would benefit (from it) were politicians”.

“We will never allow people from another country to come and employ us on our land. We want full ownership of whatever is taking place on this land,” Majola said.

He said the conduct of the department concerning the issue was of great concern to Sigcau, including the issuing of the mining licence at a time when there seemed to be a volatile situation in the area.

“This, in fact, perpetuates violence and shows that the minister, her department and Xolco have been irresponsible and reckless,” Majola said.

At one point, when Majola was delivering a message from Sigcau, he shouted at Sonjica – “do not interrupt me minister … Uzakubazi abantu namphlanje (simply translated, ‘you are going to know us today’).” At the heated meeting it also emerged that threats were allegedly made against those opposed to the mining, including the threat that they would be forcibly removed from the land.

When addressing the villagers, Sonjica was apologetic. “It was a big mistake not to start at the Great Place (seat of traditional authority) and address the local traditional leaders,” she said, and promised that her department would consult traditional leaders on the matter.

However, when asked by the Daily Dispatch whether the mining licence would remain valid, she said she could not comment on it until she had met traditional leaders.

Sarah Sephten of the Legal Resources Centre in Grahamstown – who is assisting the Amadiba committee – said according to the law, Sonjica had to suspend the mining licence before consulting traditional leaders. - By MALUNGELO BOOI AND LUBABALO NGCUKANA

Mthatha Bureau

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