Communities resisting attempts by mining companies to dig deep in their areas are increasingly finding that their lives are in danger.
· Xolobeni, a rural community on the Eastern Cape coast where 12 villagers who opposed the foreign mining company’s attempts to mine on their land were assassinated and leaders still fear for their lives.
· Somkhele, a rural community in north eastern KwaZulu Natal where Fikile Ntshangase, one of those refusing the coal mining company’s attempts to expand its mine and displace 145 families was “gunned down in her home” at Ophondweni, near Mtubatuba, on the evening of 22 October 2020.
· Mabola, Wakkerstroom where those resisting a coal mining company’s efforts to start an underground mine have been intimidated and threatened.
These are just three of many areas targeted. In many instances the communities suffer from high unemployment and little prospect of jobs.
At a SWOP webinar in November 2021, academic and environmental activist Jacklyn Cock spoke of how informants in these areas had told her of how the mines will often promise jobs to the local community where “everyone will own a motor car” and then “they look for fault lines in the community and then fill them with money and shatter the community.”
Existing mines cause harm
“There is a mine in my area,” says attorney Matome Kapa, and head of the activist training and support project at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) and the national co-ordinator for the Mining and Environmental Justice Communities Network of South Africa.
“You might think that my village is well off because of it and that we have high employment levels, thriving businesses, good roads, schools and clinics,” says Kapa.
The reality he says is very different. Runoff from the mine poisons streams and rivers; “fine dust causes respiratory illnesses and premature death”. Houses are damaged by daily mine blasts while fertile land has to be given up to mining. And the jobs that mining companies promised rarely materialise. And if community members dare to raise their voices, “they are threatened, intimidated and silenced”.
But voices like the Xolobeni activists and Fikile Ntshangase will not be silenced. Others are taking their places right across the country.
“Eco-politics is present now in communities,” Mazibuko Jara (executive director of a community-owned rural development project) told the same SWOP webinar.
What’s critical now, “if we want to deepen the eco movement from below,” he says, are alliances.
If there are no jobs and “we don’t build alliances, it’s very easy for a carrot to be dangled .”