South African community wins court battle over mining rights
Environmental activists in South Africa have won a landmark legal victory after the high court ordered the government to get prior community consent before granting mining rights.
The judgement represents a major victory for campaigners in Xolobeni, a community in Pondoland, who have been involved in a protracted and sometimes violent struggle against a proposed titanium mine.
Their lawyers told the court that the department of mineral resources offered a mining concession to the Australian company Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources without the prior informed consent of local residents.
The proposed project aimed to generate annual revenues of £140m for the 25-year life of the opencast pit, which would have produced zircon, rutile and titanium for laptop computers, bicycles, golf clubs, watches and drill bits.
But local residents said the clearance of the dunes would destroy their homes, their culture and the ecology of the Wild Coast region. They formed the Amadiba Crisis Committee, which staged protests and launched a legal challenge that led to Thursday’s victory.
Until now the informal rights of customary communities were not protected by law, but Judge Annali Basson ruled they now have the right to decide how their territory is used.
“As such they may not be deprived of their land without their consent,” Basson was quoted as saying in local reports.
Several members of the Amadiba Crisis Committee have been killed or threatened, which made the victory more significant.
“I’m so happy. This shows that our country has hope because the courts of law provide real justice for citizens despite politicians who are looting South Africa in the name of development,” said Nonhle Mbuthuma whose story was featured earlier this year in the Guardian’s Defenders series.
“We’ve set a precedent for all other communities facing this situation across Africa and the world. Until now, mining has been imposed on us. Now this judgment is a tool for communities to protect their land.”
Worldwide, the struggle for land and resources is taking a growing toll on lives and the environment. Last year, 207 activists were murdered while defending their land and environment, according to the watchdog NGO Global Witness.
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