Two hundred members of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) from Somkhele and Fuleni, in Zululand, held a peaceful but powerful demonstration outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Friday to draw attention to their strong opposition to the Tendele coal mine accused of operating without the required authorisations concerning environmental impacts, management of toxic waste, land use and heritage. The mining is taking place on the boundary of arguably the most famous protected area in Africa with the highest population of rhino in the world. One would imagine any responsible mining company would go the extra mile to ensure it complies with the highest and most rigorous environmental standards and requirements.
Instead, Tendele is trying to wriggle out of these charges by arguing the mine does not require an Environmental Impact Assessment or a Waste Management licence. Even Judge Seegobin expressed visible surprise that the Tendele management did not consider a Waste Management Licence was essential, given the commonly known waste issues associated with a polluting open cast coal mine.
Tendele mine admits it does not have the necessary permits from Amafa/Heritage KwaZulu Natal to exhume the many hundreds of graves that have had to be moved to make way for the mine. Many of these graves remain unidentified and unmarked, leaving family members unable to identify where their loved ones have been reburied. The mine also refused to compensate the families with the agreed upon one cow and one goat per relocated grave but unilaterally decided that one cow and one goat per homestead was adequate for the ceremonies for the ancestors. There are reports that one homestead had 17 family graves that were exhumed and had to be reburied. Given the regard accorded to ancestors by the Zulu people, the disrespectful and ruthless approach to the exhumation of ancestral graves by Tendele mine has left wounds akin to the black gaping holes of their mining operations.
Two weeks prior to the planned demonstration, representatives from the MCEJO Fuleni and Somkhele, Billy Mnqondo and Sabelo Dladla respectively, travelled to Pietermaritzburg and, together with Robby Mokgalaka, from groundWork, met with the necessary authorities to obtain permission in terms of the Gatherings Act to hold a legal demonstration outside the High Court. On the day of the hearing, true to form, Tendele assumed the law did not apply to them. They bussed in pro-mining protestors and disgorged them at the entrance to the High Court where they proceeded to stage an illegal protest, piggy backing on MCEJO’s legal demonstration. The police had to move the pro-mining protestors from the entrance and across the road to where the MCEJO demonstrators were in full swing, ensuring their message and voices were heard. This is yet another example of using the community.
The stark contrast between the two groups of demonstrators was remarked upon by bystanders. MCEJO members were orderly and law-abiding, while Tendele supporters were drinking alcohol and carrying sticks and knobkerries that they beat against the metal poles their posters were mounted on. Interestingly, none of the pro-mining protesters was prepared to be interviewed. Their excuse was that all their spokesmen were inside the court. Meanwhile every MCEJO member was well-informed about the court case and prepared to be interviewed by the media or to answer questions from passers-by.
One bystander remarked on the grace and courage of two elderly women wearing MCEJO T-shirts who walked past the aggressive, warrior-like dancing of the young Tendele protestors. His words were “it was such a perfect indication of the disparity between the two groups – the elderly women were salt-of-the earth and there for the community, while the Tendele protesters were young, hostile and only in it for themselves.”
#LawApplies2All including Tendele