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Tendele prepares for another onslaught against Somkhele mine expansion

17th March 2023

By: Marleny Arnoldi

Deputy Editor Online

     

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KwaZulu-Natal-based Tendele Mining says it will defend its right to mine at the Somkhele anthracite coal mine, near Mtubatuba, north of Richard’s Bay, amid the latest attempt by an environmental organisation to halt the restart of the operation.

Tendele has been preparing to resume development activities at the mine following a hiatus in activity, owing to several months of litigation that sought to close the mine.

The company plans on expanding its coal mining activities by 21-million hectares. Government has granted approval for the expansion, however, various organisations and activists have alleged that the looming expansion will displace many subsistence farmers and their families.

Tendele says it has notified residents of the Ophondweni, Emalahleni, Machibini and Mahujini communities that it will start fencing off land to build new coal-hauling access roads by March 15.

Amid the prior litigation process, the mine had to retrench close to 1 600 people in what is a poverty-stricken area, where unemployment sits at 72%, as well as cancel procurement contracts with local businesses.

The latest court action was brought on by Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (Mcejo) and others that are seeking an order to stop Tendele from restarting the mine.

A hearing has been scheduled for April 4 in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.

Tendele says the organisation appears to represent only a few hundred members of a community that exceeds 220 000 people.

The company highlights that the mine’s employment, local procurement and social and labour plan work constitutes the bulk of the region’s economic activity.

In this latest round of litigation, Tendele will be supported by the Mpukunyoni Traditional Council (MTC); trade unions the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union; a few local businesses; and the families to be relocated, parent company of Tendele, Petmin, says in a release issued on March 17.  

Tendele has agreed that no physical mining activities will start in Emalahleni or Ophondweni before April 4, following which Tendele will start working on the access road it will need in Emalahleni to access the area that will eventually be mined.

Tendele hopes its efforts to resume full economic activity at the mine will be successful and thereby continue benefitting members of the community.

COMMUNITY CLARIFICATION
MTC on March 13 responded to an article published by a major news outlet the day before, which cites concerns of various residents and subsistence farmers of the surrounding communities to the mine and the proposed expansion areas.

One of the residents cited in the article claims to not trust the traditional councils, and alleges they are paid a monthly stipend to act in Tendele’s favour.

Another resident, in sworn affidavits that form part of the latest court papers, alleges that many people live in fear of being assassinated or having damage done to their homes if they speak out against Tendele.

MTC, in turn, says it represents 95% of the members of the Mpukonyoni community, and affirms they support the continuation of mining operations at Somkhele.

The council has filed a complaint at the Law Society against All Rise Attorneys, which is representing Mcejo in the matter, alleging that their ill-considered advice has had a negative impact on the livelihoods of all people in the community surrounding the mine.

MTC is also working on a submission to the Human Rights Commission to expose All Rise for what MTC believes to be misleading conduct under the guise of environmental and social concerns.

All Rise reportedly represents about 500 community members who oppose the operations of Tendele; however, MTC says the firm has failed to verify the purported membership through an independent third party.

All Rise has previously applied for the suspension of the mine’s water use and waste licence; however, it was unsuccessful.

MTC also says the news outlet’s article fails to mention that 140 families, or 98% of those to be relocated, have signed relocation agreements, and only quoted a few individual Mcejo members for its story.

The council believes that since Tendele’s start of operations in 2006 it has operated in an environmentally responsible manner, grown to employ 1 600 and provided due consideration to the local community.

MTC also states that the estimated R3.6-billion of economic benefits set to arise from the three expansion areas to the mine will benefit economic development in the community and continue to create much-needed jobs.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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