The Xolobeni mining conflict on the Wild Coast recently threatened to explode after agents of the mining company attacked local residents who refused them access to the titanium rich dunes. But the local residents are insisting that the titanium is “unobtainium” to MRC, echoing the theme of the 2007 Oscar-nominated Hollywood blockbuster Blood Diamond.

In one of the most tranquil settings in the world the Pondoland Wild Coast on May 3 an elderly woman was beaten with a knobkierie and hacked with a bush knife by a group linked to the controversial Xolobeni Mineral Sands mining rights application. Shots were fired late at night, causing a mother to flee from her home in fear and hide in the Mntentu river gorge with her month old twin babies. To prevent more thuggery, prompt intervention from the Amadiba Crisis Committee lawyers, Richard Spoor attorneys and the Legal Resources Centre have now secured an interdict to prevent the aggressors from “intimidating, victimising, threatening, harassing and/or assaulting members of the Mgungundlovu community; bringing firearms to meetings held by the Mgungundlovu community”.  

Although the mother of the one-month-old twins Philisiwe Denge feels it is now safe to return home, the wounds of Msaidilose Ndovela, the victim of the assault, will take longer to heal. The Xolobeni mining conflict recently threatened to explode after agents of the mining company attacked local residents. The recent violence is unprecedented in this normally peaceful community, as eco-tourists to the Mntentu River Lodge will testify.

In court papers lodged in the Grahamstown High Court last week by the Umgungundlovu Headwoman local headwoman Duduzile Baleni she states.

“Ms Msaidilose Ndovela a 61-year-old pensioner and the Sixth Applicant fell into a ditch as she tried to run for her safety. Whilst on her knees, the Second Respondent, Mr Zamokwakhe ‘Bashin’ Qunya, struck her with a knobkierie, stamped on her, and hacked her with a bush knife. An associate of his, Mr Khahlaza Chiya, joined in the assault. As she lay immobile on the ground, her assailants joked about having killed her. She was later transported to hospital by ambulance for treatment of her injuries.”

This does indeed sound like the opening scene out of Blood Diamond, in which militia cut off the hands of terrified rural residents to prevent them from voting to end the decade-long bloody civil war that had engulfed Sierra Leone. Ed Zwick the director of Blood Diamond knows the topography of the Wild Coast very well, in fact much better than the Kono diamond fields of Sierra Leone.  In what must be one of the weirdest ever "life imitating art" ironies, the gruesome incident in the film was actually filmed a short distance away from the spot where Bashin Qunya allegedly bashed his victim with a knobkierie and hacked her with a bush knife.

Zwick had dressed up the Mzamba estuary as a plausible proxy for an alluvial diamond mine in Sierra Leone.  The Oscar nominated film called world attention to the issue of conflict minerals. Zwick could never have known just how ironic his words (in support of the campaign of Global Witness against conflict minerals) would now become.

But this story was never just about diamonds. Throughout the world, the demand for all natural resources is soaring. Yet tragically, local populations especially in poorer nations rarely benefit. Instead, revenues continue to fund conflict rather than development. We have an opportunity to help change that.

When the Executive Chairman of MRC Ltd Mark Victor Caruso persuaded his board of directors to approve a R12-million loan to MRC’s empowerment partner Blue Bantry Investments in October 2012 it was in effect to fund the conflict.  Although the stated intention of the deal was “to bridge the cross cultural divide” for the “immediate benefit of the Amadiba community”, it now appears that the money was used for anything but a bridging intervention to uplift local residents. In truth it has been a divisive interference to uproot them. Well-placed sources tell me that the loan helped set up Bashin Qunya and his older brother Zamile in a company to do business with Mark Caruso’s other company, Mineral Sands Resources, which operates the Tormin Mineral Sands venture on the Cape West Coast.  Zamile Qunya reportedly receives a monthly payment of around R250 000 for services rendered to pave the way for Caruso to finally achieve his ambition to mine the Wild Coast of 9.1 million tons of ilmenite. The senior hereditary chief of the Amadiba, Nkosi Lunga Baleni has been totally co-opted by Caruso to that cause. In her affidavit Duduzile Baleni states:

“[Lunga Baleni] was previously a staunch opponent of mining. He was, however, persuaded to change his position through promises of personal enrichment. I refer the Court to a copy of an affidavit deposed to by Mr Baleni on or about 4 March 2014…. In this affidavit, he explains how he was persuaded to support the mining activities of TEM.

The situation of Lunga Baleni is particularly pitiful. In March 2012 he was the beneficiary of Richard Spoor’s expert legal services, when Spoor successfully defended a claim on his chieftainship brought by the Qunya brothers and their pro-mining faction.  In an extraordinary admission he acknowledges (in the affidavit referred to by his cousin above) that he had been manipulated firstly by Zamile Qunya and then by Mark Caruso.

Qunya duped him into thinking he had lost his case whereas he had won, and then offered him a deal whereby they would ‘withdraw’ the legal action against him if he “agreed to appeal to those in the community who strongly opposed the mining to agree to it”.

“I was also informed by Mr Qunya that a ‘Royal Family Trust’ bank account would be created and that the chieftaincy would be entitled to a 4% of the profits obtained by the titanium mining. I later discovered that they had been aware of my successful defence of the Chieftaincy and had therefore created the above proposal with this knowledge, and with the hopes of securing my support for the abovementioned mining ventures.”

Nevertheless, despite having reservations about “putting the needs of the chieftaincy above those of the community” he continued to play ball and attended the Mining Indaba in Cape Town in February 2013 and met Mark Caruso with whom Qunya had a “prior working relationship”. Caruso reassured him of,

“..his willingness to provide employment opportunities for people of Xolobeni should he be successful in obtaining the mining licence.  The prospect of greater job opportunities in Xolobeni further appealed to me, and I therefore continued to endeavour to persuade the community to support the mining.  Despite my efforts, the community remains divided on the issue on whether or not to allow mining to take place”.

The reason for that is explained by Duduzile Baleni.

Since then, he has been given the use of a 4x4 Ford Ranger pick-up with the registration CA725658 and has been appointed as a director of Xolco, for which he is undoubtedly remunerated. He has, as a consequence, abandoned all pretence of neutrality and is determined to impose mining in the Community.

“If reconciliation between the pro and anti-mining is to happen you need to stop the flow of money at the source” Richard Spoor once advised the Amadiba Crisis Committee. That explains why this Avaaz Petition is currently circulating. See
here.

Back in 2007 I too experienced something of Mark Caruso’s forceful personality.  After the Amadiba Crisis Committee gained the strong upper hand over Qunya and co, and he could see that his first mining rights application for the Xolobeni mineral sands was in deep trouble, Caruso called me in a fit of rage to warn me to expect a letter from his lawyer, putting me on terms. Besides criticising his co-option and subversion tactics at Xolobeni, I had also been quoted in the media suggesting “questionable practices” in his company’s diamond tailings operation in Kono, Sierra Leone (yes I kid you not, MRC once had a diamond tailings operation in the exact place that Blood Diamond features, and the article had of course highlighted the extraordinary coincidence).

Clearly stung by the extraordinary coincidence of having been bound by Ed Zwick’s film making genius to both the Xolobeni Mineral Sands and the Kono diamond fields he complained that his real humanitarian intention had been grossly misunderstood. 

“When I go to Sierra Leone, what I want to do is I want to give every single person $1 000 to make their lives better, but I don’t have the financial capacity to do that... and it would wreck them anyway. But when you see people with no arms and no legs because of the crimes that have been perpetrated against them, then what shall we do, John?”

He concluded his vitriolic attack on my “meaningless” human rights based intervention in the conflict by offering some advice.

“Do something practical to help these poor people John, instead of running to the Human Rights Commission…  In Australia we have a saying ‘piss or get off the pot’.  And you can quote that”.

Ed Zwick said we could change the bloody trail of conflict minerals. Right now, eight years down the line, with the Amadiba community plunged in a conflict that echoes the violence portrayed by Blood Diamond I couldn’t think of a more practical thing to do than sign the petition and ensure the board of MRC gets the message that the titanium is now irrevocably "unobtainium".

  • The founding affidavit of Nkosana Duduzile Baleni can be downloaded here and here.
  • The Xolobeni Mining Conflict features in the feature length documentary film The Shore Break, which will be shown during the Encounters Film Festival in Cape Town and Johannesburg next month. See here.
  • If anyone reading this article knows Leonardo de Caprio, Djimon Houson, Ed Zwick or any of the cast and crew of Blood Diamond, please forward this to them.  

 

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