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The principal of free prior and informed consent was the central issue discussed at the Alfred Nzo District Municipality public hearing on the Amendment Bill of the Mining and Petroleum Resources Development Act, at the Xolobeni Great Place this week.
According to spokesman, Nonhle Mbuthuma, the Amadiba Crisis Committee welcomed the fact that authorities had seen fit to hold the hearing in the Eastern Cape, particularly as it had taken place in Xolobeni.
The coastal Amadiba community had struggled for more than 10 years against repeated mining applications by Transworld Energy and Minerals (TEM), a South African subsidiary of an Australian mining company, to mine a 22km stretch of the Wild Coast coastline.
With this in mind, it was not surprising the committee asked that the new bill be rewritten to include the free prior and informed consent principal.
“The Bill goes in the other direction. One example of its disempowering character is the scrapping of mandatory conditions for community participation in mining. The government wants the mining minister to set conditions for mining on community land but now wishes to delete participation conditions.
“This is but one example of the watering down of community recognition. Another example is the scrapping of the designated empowerment groups, ‘women and communities’, from section 2 of the act, where it deals with development and promotion of previously disadvantaged persons,” said Ms Mbuthuma.
According to her, some 250 villagers met the delegation from the Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, led by the Honourable Tony Duba. The extremely well supported meeting was chaired by the coastal Amadiba traditional authority.
A Pretoria delegation from the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) had arrived unexpectedly and community members had pointed out the department’s “unacceptable” role in the Xolobeni mining saga. There were demands that officials who owned mining shares be fired, she said.
“DMR’s late surprise arrival was especially controversial today. DMR added 57 new amendments after the bill had already been to Parliament,” Ms Mbuthuma explained.
She added that Mr Duba had agreed with Henk Smith from Legal Resource Centre, who was at the hearing, stating that this was unconstitutional and that the provincial legislature would ignore the “backdoor amendments”.
It was likely other provinces would reject this move by DMR, too. Mr Duba also said that the principal issue that had been raised, namely that customary law required community consent before there could be mining on community land, would be taken up by the standing committee.
Ms Mbuthuma said that while Alfred Nzo District Municipality representatives had attended the hearing, Mbizana Local Municipality officials, though invited, had not attended.
“The Mbizana officials are right now being taken to court by community members who claim the officials had changed the designation of the coast from conservation and tourism to opencast mining. They are litigated for ‘adopting’ a new Spatial Development Framework behind everyone’s back, even their own council,” she said.