South African indigenous community win environmental rights case over mining company

A court has ruled that companies must first seek permission from local communities if they plan to mine on their ancestral land. This represents a new achievement in land and mining rights for South Africa.

On 9 December 2018, the world will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, with International Human Rights Day following a day later. It is therefore fitting that this historic achievement for environmental defenders and the community of Xolobeni came when it did, and that the principle of Free Prior and Informed Consent has been upheld for communities and indigenous peoples’ in South Africa.

Xolobeni is home to the Umgungundlovu community, and some 70 to 75 households comprising more than 600 people. The land they live on provides the community with food and grazing for their livestock, water, firewood, medicinal plants as well as their livelihoods be it agriculture or tourism. Xolobeni is not just home to the living; it is the final resting place of many of the community’s ancestors. The land has deep spiritual, religious and cultural importance.

Thus, when a large open-cast titanium mine was planned in the area, that would displace the community and degrade the land, the community formed the Amadiba Crisis Committee to coordinate the fight against the mine. Formed in 2007, for over a decade the community has fought off the often severe acts of intimidation, threats and even alleged murder levelled against them, to finally have their rights protected and respected in November 2018. 

The Committee’s former Chairperson, Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, was killed in front of his teenage son in 2016. Nonhle Mbuthuma, who took over from him, states that Rhadebe told her a few hours before his death that he was the top priority on a hit list of those who opposed the mine. Nonhle was also on the list and has been in and out of hiding since then. No arrests have been made concerning Rhadebe’s murder.



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