“It felt like it was the first or second world war. We asked ourselves what the need for so many police was,” Nonhle Mbuthuma of the Amadiba Community Crisis told The Daily Vox in an interview.
On Wednesday the mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe visited Xolobeni village in the Eastern Cape to “engage” with the community. Not for the first time, the meeting ended with police firing stun grenades at the community members.
“We waited an hour for him to come engage with us for him to bring a whole brigade of over one hundred armed police, from TRT and others who were on horses. From our understanding, in communities like ours you cannot just storm into the village with heavily armed police in a meeting involving the community,” Mbuthuma said.
The Amadiba Crisis Committee was formed by local community members to fight against the proposed mine. In November last year, the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the government has to obtain “full and informed” consent from communities before granting mining rights to companies to mine communal land.
The department has been pushing aggressively on behalf of the mining company, and against the Xolobeni community. In September last year, Mantashe visited an area in an attempt to nip tensions in the bud, however his efforts were dismissed by the community.
Mbuthuma says while the community had to wait for an hour for the minister’s arrival, when he finally showed up elderly people who are on walking sticks were not allowed to enter the tent with them, with the fear of assaults.
“We have elderly members who have been part of this community for many years. Some are no longer able to walk on their own and are using walking sticks, but they were searched along with everyone else and told to leave their sticks behind. When they explained that they had to use those sticks for balance, they were told to either leave them outside or go home.”
“It was baffling to see our people being treated in that manner,” she said.
After Mantashe addressed the people chaos ensued, this after an “unknown” man allegedly told the officials he was part of the committee and wanted the mining to go ahead.
“Everyone was shocked because none of us know who that man is. He claimed that he was a community member and the member of Amadiba Crisis Committee, that’s when people started raising questions towards Mantashe. After speaking, the man was seen being escorted by the police into his car and drove off, that drove the community mad and asked Mantashe to call him back so that he could explain who he is, but the Minister told us the meeting had been concluded,” Mbuthuma said.
She said further that the person had been seen rubbing shoulders with the minister before he a chance for questions and comments was opened. “We were all in a queue awaiting our turns to ask questions and make comments, but his hand was picked, and he was the first person to speak, after he was done, we were told the meeting was over. People started making demands for the man to come back and explain, that’s when police started firing stun grenades inside the tent full of people,” she said.
Xolobeni is under Alfred Nzo district which is governed by the ruling party. Mbuthuma says “What the ANC is doing to us is proof enough that the land expropriation they keep on discussing in parliament is all just a talk. If they really wanted people to have land, they wouldn’t be so hell bent on taking this small piece of land from us.”
National elections are only a few months away and Mbuthuma says “After all the torment the ANC government has put us through, I wonder how they will come out here and canvass for votes. I wonder how they will look people in the eye and convince them to vote, but we are waiting for them to come.”