Minister puts licence to mine at Xolobeni on hold


29 September 2008
Franny Rabkin

A PROJECT to mine titanium in the Xolobeni region of Eastern Cape, granted to Transworld Energy and Minerals (TEM), has been stopped in its tracks by Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica.

This after an internal appeal from a community organisation, the AmaDiba Crisis Committee, represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC).

The licence to mine, originally granted by the minerals and energy department, was supposed to come into effect at the end of next month.

But the committee appealed the licence, saying that it would change the community's traditional way of life and result in the forced eviction of people from their ancestral homes, loss of grazing land and relocation of their ancestral graves.

In its appeal, the committee said the consultation process TEM was obliged to undertake was flawed.

The committee complained about the long distances to travel to the consultation meetings organised by TEM.

It also said the wrong traditional leaders were consulted by the company, rather than the ones registered as such in terms of the Traditional Leaders Act.

Sonjica wanted to consult King Mpondombini Sigcau, Queen MaSobhuza Sigcau and Chief Ndabazakshe Baleni and hold oral hearings where the committee could make its concerns heard.

Attorney Richard Spoor said it was the first time he was aware that the department had publicly acknowledged that a required consultation process was flawed.

Sarah Sephton of the LRC said the decision was a great victory for the centre and the people of the AmaDiba community. She was "extremely pleased" that the minister was taking their concerns seriously.

But Spoor, whose mandate it is to prepare for a court review of the decision to grant the licence - should it come to that - said they were "not taking any chances".

"We are working on the basis that there is a real possibility that (Sonjica) will refuse the appeal. We hope for a successful outcome, but we are not banking on it."

The potential R1,4bn investment for Eastern Cape, in the Transkei - a mine, and a proposed mineral separation plant and downstream smelter - will result in TEM mining heavy mineral deposits amounting to 346-million tons at Xolobeni, a significant deposit in world terms due to its strategic location.

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