By Stephan Hofstatter
Johannesburg — EVIDENCE of misrepresentation has emerged in papers submitted in an application that led to a decision by the Department of Mineral Resources to allow titanium mining on the environmentally sensitive Wild Coast.
If proved, the disclosures could jeopardise plans by Australian company Mineral Commodities (MRC) and its empowerment partner, Xolco, to extract heavy metals worth an estimated R11bn from the coastal dunes of the Transkei.
The evidence, seen by Business Day, is in papers submitted by Xolco to a panel considering an appeal by a local community group and the nearby Wild Coast Sun. Included are signatures of more than 3000 community members purportedly "in full agreement with the mining project going ahead" after being briefed about the "social, economic and environment impact".
A cursory check by Business Day revealed that several identity numbers belonged to people who had died and that more than a dozen were invalid. Other signatories submitted affidavits that they had never signed the list. Two said their signatures had been used "fraudulently".
The department's decision to allow mining on a 22km strip containing more species than in the UK sparked an international outcry.
MRC MD Mark Caruso said the danger of environmental damage had been grossly exaggerated.
Villagers are divided. Supporters, including politically connected business leaders likely to benefit, argue it is the impoverished region's only hope of development. Detractors, including a vocal lobby group, the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), funded by environmentalists, insist mining will enrich a small elite while destroying livelihoods for most.
Company documents seen by Business Day show five trusts set up by Xolco to disburse revenue to the community will be run by members with sole discretion on spending, including on salaries.
The ACC appeal also argues that Xolco and MRC failed to meet legal requirements of consultation by going through illegitimate traditional structures.
* Southern Africa
* South Africa
* Asia, Australia, and Africa
* Sustainable Development
The mining companies say the "tribal authority was fully informed and supportive of the project". It lists "Chiefs Khaliphile Baleni and Ndabazakhe Baleni" as the legitimate traditional leaders. But official notices show the Eastern Cape traditional affairs department recognises only "Chief Lunga Baleni" as "inkosi of the Amadiba Tribal Authority", which has jurisdiction over the mining block.
Lunga Baleni said he was never consulted. Ndabazakhe Baleni died last year. Khaliphile Baleni is apparently ill and could not be reached for comment.
Legal experts say the minister is not obliged to cancel the mining right, even if fraud is proved.
"The section gives the power to the minister to cancel, suspend or revoke the licence in such a case," said University of Cape Town law professor Jan Glazewski. "But I believe the minister will have to be prevailed upon to force their hand."