For far too long, we have stood aside and watched our government sell off our land to those who promise development but deliver disenfranchisement.
In Redemption Song, reggae singer and activist Bob Marley asks: “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?”
These poignant words took on significant relevance a few days ago when Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) chairman, Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe, was brutally assassinated. He was shot eight times.
The ACC was established almost 10 years ago by 300 families who constitute the community of Xolobeni village in the picturesque Wild Coast region of the Eastern Cape.
This community is opposed to mining activity in the area and over the years has fought legal battles against a private company that has sought to mine titanium, located in huge deposits beneath the dunes.
Over the past decade, the community has been at war with Australian company Mineral Commodities (MRC), which recently lodged a new application to mine in the area. The Australian Stock Exchange-listed company has acquired mining rights in many areas Down Under and has now set its sights on acquiring mining rights in Africa’s second biggest economy.
The company’s website states: “For the last 10 years the focus has been on South African investments and we are currently involved in the exploration and development of two major mineral sands projects in South Africa.”
The assassination of Bazooka is not an isolated incident. Over the years, many prominent leaders of the ACC have been murdered. The community has also suffered harassment from the police and its traditional authority, which has been accused by the community of being in cahoots with the company.
In an incident just a year ago, the community refused to allow consultants employed by MRC to gain access to the dunes in the area, which resulted in a fresh wave of violence as the chief and his supporters beat up the protesting community members and aimed pistols at them.
If this sounds all too familiar, it’s because it is exactly what transpired when the former apartheid regime implemented the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951.
It made provision for tribal authorities with chiefs, whose responsibility it was to allocate land as well as preside over the welfare of their subjects.
The chiefs were co-opted into the system and were often used by the regime. Much like the situation in Xolobeni village, those opposed to the chiefs were subjected to the worst forms of violence, often with the assistance of the state machinery, just as the police are assisting in the brutalisation of the anti-mining community members.
The conflict in Xolobeni village is also much like that of the Pondos in the 1950s.
Those in support of mining, such as the chief and his few supporters, argue it will bring much-needed economic development to their community.
The vast majority of the community is not ignorant of the mineral wealth that lies beneath its land.
They know that there are economic benefits to mining. But to them the long-term consequences of dune mining are far more devastating and outweigh the economic good that would come from it.
They argue that dune mining will not only have negative consequences for the natural environment, but it is a form of land dispossession.
Herein lies the difference between how private companies like MRC and communities like Xolobeni view the land question. To the former, land is a commodity whose value is solely economic.
If there are minerals beneath the soil, they should be extracted regardless of the environmental impact.
But to the community of Xolobeni, much like the communities that led the Pondoland revolt, land is much more than a commodity from which economic gains can be made. While it is a source of livelihood, it is also part of their identity. It is where the ancestors are buried. It is where traditional rituals are performed.
It is where a people’s geobiography is constructed. It is a place of memory, a place of community. It is home.
Black people in the country definitely relate to the struggle being waged by the Amadiba community. We know too well the pain of dispossession, a pain we continue to feel more than a century since the passing of the 1913 Land Act. We have shed too many tears for the many brave warrior men and women who shed blood trying to protect our land. Today, we remain disenfranchised and landless.
It’s for this reason we should all unite to help the Amadiba people to preserve their land and maintain ownership of it. Civil society groups have come together to petition the government to intervene and halt the process of renewed mining applications from MRC to mine titanium in the Wild Coast. The petition can be found to sign at amandla.mobi
We cannot continue to stand aside and watch while our prophets are being killed.
It is incumbent upon us to defend our very humanity. For far too long, we have stood aside and watched our government sell off our land to investors who promise economic development but deliver disenfranchisement.
We have helped generate lots of profits for greedy corporates who see our land as nothing but a commodity that must be sucked dry. We must now take a stand and say: not on our land!
[Malaika Wa Azania is the author of Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation. This article was first published on Sunday Independent and is re-posted by AfricaFightNow.org! with the author’s permission.]