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By Franny Rabkin - 23 April 2008
CONFUSION reigned at a South African Human Rights Commission hearing yesterday into a dispute over the right to exploit mineral sands at Xolobeni, on the Wild Coast, Eastern Cape.
The ministers of minerals and energy , agriculture and land affairs, and environmental affairs and tourism were subpoenaed to appear before the commission, which is trying to investigate the problem.
Xolobeni residents disagree over the possibility of a mining licence being granted to an Australian company, Mineral Resources , and its South African subsidiary, Transworld Energy Minerals.
Some support it, in the hope that it will bring development. Others are against it on environmental grounds.
Commissioner Leon Wessels expressed his disappointment that the ministers had to be subpoenaed before they would co-operate with the commission’s inquiry. “Accountable and responsive government means that we all talk to one another. Somebody is failing somebody,” he said.
The commission received a complaint last year from the Amadiba Action Committee, representing those residents against the proposed mine. The committee said they were not consulted as required by the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act.
The commission had tried to obtain further information — through correspondence and meetings — in order to investigate the complaint, but to no avail.
The commission then resorted to its subpoena powers.
Jacinto Rocha, deputy director-general in the minerals and energy department, said yesterday no decision had been made on the granting of the licence. On the consultation between the applicant for the mining rights and the Xolobeni community, Rocha said: “If you approach those that are for, they say they have been consulted. If you approach those that are against, they say they have not been consulted.”
The issue was further complicated by the fact that the land in question is communal.
Dali Matta, chief director in the land affairs department, said the land was held in trust by the minister on behalf of the community. Any decision the minister took had to have the consent of the community, he said. This involved a separate consultation.
Matta told the commission that the first his department heard of this issue was on April 8 , when the minister received her subpoena. This being the case, the department had not done any consultation with Xolobeni residents.
Rocha said his department had consulted the relevant departments “as far back as the date of the application (for the licence)”. He also said no objections had been made.
This was “very disturbing,” said Jennifer Joni of the commission’s legal department. The prospecting right had already been granted, and the mining licence was on the way to being granted — all with no proper consultation, she said.
Matta said it would have been preferable if a single process of consultation had been undertaken involving the land affairs department.
In response to Rocha’s saying that land affairs had been consulted from the outset of the application, he said: “No. No ways. We never heard anything.”
Wessels adjourned the proceeding indefinitely, which means that all the departments remain under subpoena until the commission gets to the bottom of the matter.