In the wake of the murder of Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) subcommittee vice-chairperson Fikile Ntshangase on October 22, numerous parties have called for calm and peaceful discussion about the contested issue of expansion of the Somkhele, KwaZulu-Natal-based Tendele anthracite mine.
The mine’s management has conveyed its sadness and concern in hearing of the incident, expressing its “sincere condolences” to the family and friends of Ntshangase. It has reiterated its condemnation of any forms of violence and intimidation in the “strongest possible terms”.
“At this time, calm and leadership is called upon from all parties to ease the tension in the current environment,” the miner states.
According to the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), MCEJO has been challenging the further expansion of a large coal mine at Somkhele, with one of the court cases brought by MCEJO scheduled for hearing in the Supreme Court of Appeal on November 3.
In this regard, the CER reports that the court challenge at the centre of the contested issue is MCEJO’s pending review application of Tendele’s new mining right in respect of a 222 km2 area in Mpukunyoni, KwaZulu-Natal. This review is due to be heard by the North Gauteng High Court in March 2021.
The CER says that, over the past few months, tension has been rising in the community over the proposed expansion of Tendele’s operations.
To ensure peace and stability in the area, the mine, together with local community leaders, has continued to work collectively and collaboratively over the past few months with various spheres of government to ease tensions in the area, states Tendele.
“We remain committed to a sincere engagement with the MCEJO and all members of the community in an effort to find a solution that benefits all. To this end we have been calling for calm and leadership on the ground since October 23.”
However, the CER points out that, recently, Tendele was pushing for an agreement to be signed between MCEJO and Tendele to the effect that MCEJO would withdraw its court challenges of Tendele’s expansion of its coal mine at Somkhele.
Tendele adds that its legal advisers will approach the MCEJO advisers with the view to finding an amicable resolution for all interested and affected parties.
As such, Tendele say that mediation remains its objective to avoid the closure of the mine which will result in the loss of 1 600 jobs in an area where unemployment is rife. “If the mine closes, this will have a devastating effect on the community as thousands of people benefit directly and indirectly from the existence of the mine,” reports Tendele.
Meanwhile, Tendele says it hopes an investigation that is under way by the local police into the murder will bring the perpetrators of this “terrible crime to book”.
The CER has also called on the police to act swiftly to arrest and prosecute Ntshangase’s murderers.