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  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

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Community activists protesting devastating impacts of coal mine shot at and arrested

17 March 2021 at 12:14 pm

Community activists protesting outside Ikwezi Coal mine on 11 March 2021
Community activists protesting outside Ikwezi Coal mine on 11 March 2021

Community activists were shot, injured and arrested by the police while peacefully raising grievances against Ikwezi coal mine in Dannhauser, KwaZulu-Natal for poisoning their air, cracking their houses and killing their livestock with their mining activities.

On the outskirts of Dannhauser, in KwaZulu-Natal, police used rubber bullets to shoot at a group of environmental justice community activists who were protesting peacefully outside of Ikwezi Mining’s Kliprand Colliery in KwaZulu-Natal. The activists were trying to have their grievances heard by the management of Ikwezi, whose colliery operates in the local community’s backyard.

This came just two days after the South African Police Service members allegedly shot and killed Mthokizisi Ntumba during a Wits University students’ protest, and a few days before another Wits student was shot by police in Johannesburg.

In Dannhauser, the activists were protesting against the coal mine’s impacts on the community, their property and their livestock. The continuous blasting by the mine emits heavy black smoke that is not only debilitating to the community’s general wellbeing, but also places them at greater risk of respiratory illnesses. The blasting has also cracked some community members’ houses, and there is fear that some of the houses will not be able to withstand the continuous blasting.

Community members also contend that they are losing livestock because they are grazing on grass covered with black coal dust, and they think that mine waste may have contaminated some of the local water sources.

“The experiences of the community next to which Ikwezi operates its coal mine are standard for so many mining communities across the Mpumalanga Highveld,” says Robby Mokgalaka, community coal campaigner from environmental justice group groundWork. “Mining companies arrive with many promises, but it is those communities that then face devastation to their lives and livelihoods, without sharing in any of the profits.”

Participants in the two-day protest outside Ikwezi’s coal mine were unarmed and non-violent, and were not trespassing on any property. Yet while community representatives were negotiating with mine officials during the second day of protest for a suitable meeting venue to discuss the community’s grievances, police opened fire on the group when they refused to disperse. Various activists suffered injuries.

According to the protestors, Mr Bonani Ndlovu, a director of Ikwezi, was present during the shooting and arrest of the activists.

The protest was a last-ditch effort to get the mine to engage with the community regarding their complaints and to provide them with important information that will enable the community to assert their rights. From as far as 2018, this community has been trying to engage with the mine about negative impacts its operations are having on their health and wellbeing. The mine has failed each time to hear them out. Whenever the community tries to stage peaceful protests against this mine, they are always met with police brutality and arbitrary arrests.

After the shooting, 8 community activists were arrested and taken into custody by the police. They are: Sindi Kubheka, Robby Mokgalaka, Themba Khumalo, Isaac Shabalala, Zakhele Mthanti, Zanele Kubheka, Buhle Kunene and Sipho Shabalala. The activists had to spend the weekend in police cells even after members of the civil society organisations arranged an attorney to assist with police bail. The police indicated that the charges were too serious for the activists to be released without appearing in front of a magistrate. However, when the activists appeared before the Dannhauser Magistrate court on 15 March 2021, they were informed that charges were being dropped against 5 of the 8 (despite spending the weekend in custody), and bail was granted for the other three.

All those that had their charges dropped were men, and the state is proceeding with a case against the three women: Sindi Kubheka, Zanele Kubheka and Buhle Kunene. They will appear in court on 12 April 2021.

Occurrences like these are not unique to the Dannhauser community. In April 2019, the Centre for Environmental Rights together with groundWorkHuman Rights Watch and EarthJustice released a report titled: “We Know Our Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities. This report reveals that the South African Police Service frequently use violence and arbitrary arrests, in concert with mining companies and their security firms, to silence the voices of community activists raising legitimate complaints about mines and their operations next to their homes. Communities living adjacent to mining operations pay an unacknowledged price for these operations with their health, wellbeing and livelihoods.

The Constitutional right to protest peacefully and unarmed continues to be unreasonably violated by the South African Police Services. It is unacceptable for the police to use violence and unlawful arrests against the community members who are merely trying to protest to assert their rights for a better life. However, exercising the right to protest is increasingly becoming a risk and danger to activists’ freedom and to life.

“Condemning the acts of members of the South African Police is no longer enough: we need tangible interventions from government to reform how police view and respond to peaceful protest,” says Matome Kapa, attorney and head of the Activist Support & Training programme at the Centre for Environmental Rights.

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NOTES TO EDITOR:

Ikwezi Mining Limited is a company incorporated in Bermuda (with registered number 151 258 221) and listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX: IKW) with ABN 151 258 221. According to its website, Ikwezi Mining operates the Kliprand Colliery and Emoyeni coal beneficiation plant in Dannhauser, KwaZulu-Natal and are in the process of developing the Ikwezi Ngagane rail siding near the Ngagane power station in Newcastle.

Past coverage of this community’s struggles for justice:

Ikwezi Mining is a sister company of Ikwezi Vanadium, both part of the Oza Holdings group. Ikwezi Vanadium is a vanadium ore mine near Northam, North West. Very similar incidents as took place at Dannhauser have been reported at this mine: https://www.groundup.org.za/article/community-and-mining-company-clash-over-vanadium-rich-land/

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CONTACT:

  • Robby Mokgalaka, Coal Campaigner at groundwork, robs@groundwork.org.za, 073 774 3362
  • Matome Kapa, Head of Activist Training & Support, Centre for Environmental Rights, mkapa@cer.org.za, 072 487 9567