Clashes over mining on KZN North Coast

Since December last year I’ve been covering the ongoing saga over proposed sand dune mining at Mtunzini, a small eco-friendly town on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast. This is the latest in the series of articles on the issue, published in the Sunday Tribune on May 15, 2011, page two.

Page 2 of the Sunday Tribune, May 15, 2011

MINE OPPONENTS DIG IN

Tension is rising between Mtunzini residents and a firm in the countdown to a decision on whether mining will take place, reports Matthew Savides

Suzy Raymond might be prepared to throw herself under a bulldozer to prevent mining on the doorstep of her home in Mtunzini, but mining company Exxaro KZN Sands is likely to overlook her protests in the face of profits of R1 billion a year.

Plans are afoot for 2 800ha of forestry and farming land outside the small eco-friendly North Coast town to be mined for zircon, ilmenite and rutile, valuable minerals because of their use in everyday products from paint pigment and toothpaste to titanium golf clubs.

The proposed Fairbreeze mining starts just 100m from the southern edge of the town and will, if the permit is granted, start in 2013. It is expected to end in 2030. Exxaro already mines at Hillendale, just 20km north of Mtunzini, and plans to shift operations to the new Fairbreeze mine. Construction of the mine would start in August or September.

Many residents are up in arms about the proposal.

“I will throw my body in front of the bulldozers. They simply must not mine here,” Raymond said.

For her, the thought of mining on her doorstep is repulsive.

PICTURE: GOOGLE EARTH. The Exxaro Hillendale mine, shown from a saterlite image. Residents of Mtunzini worry that this scene might be replicated around their town.

“What Exxaro wants to do is short-lived and based on greed. The mining won’t benefit anyone. I could have lived with the mining until I looked at how Exxaro works. What they do is environmentally unfriendly… and if you look at the rehabilitation at Hillendale, it hasn’t been successful. This town will become a wasteland,” she said.

Exxaro spokesman Hilton Atkinson said Fairbreeze would operate with the current processing and smelting operations on the outskirts of  Empangeni.

“The economic impact assessment included in the basic assessment… estimated operating profits for Exxaro’s sands business to average around R1bn a year during the lifetime of the mine.”

With such large profits expected, residents at a public meeting on Tuesday night questioned how much benefit there would be to the town and its surroundings.

PICTURE: RYAN SHEPERD. Mtunzini resident Frank Rautenbach points to the line of trees planted as a barrier between the town and the proposed Fairbreeze mine. The mining would start just 100m from the town's edge.

But amid the complaints there is vocal support for the project. A large number of amakhosi and leaders from the tribal areas said they supported the project because of the jobs it would create. Unemployment in the area is as high as 56 percent.

“People need opportunities for jobs. Based on what we’ve seen, the community will have an opportunity for jobs from the mining and will have the chance for a better life,” said Makhosonke Ntuli, of the Macambini Tribal Authority.

Atkinson said there would be 1 080 temporary jobs created during the construction phase of the contract, 863 of these between 2011 and 2013 as phase one of the mine is constructed and 217 jobs for the upgrade phase in 2017/18. Only 30 new permanent jobs would be created in the switchover from Hillendale to Fairbreeze.

“The main benefit of the Fairbreeze mine would be the job preservation it offers for the KZN Sands business, which currently employs about 700 permanent employees and about 300 contractors.

PICTURE: RYAN SHEPERD. Makhosonke Ntuli of the Macanbini Traditional Leaders Authority speaks a public meeting held over the proposed mining last week. The tribal community is at loggerheads with residents of the town, saying the mine should go ahead because of the jobs it would create.

“If the Fairbreeze mine did not go ahead, the entire KZN Sands would have had to face a closure process, with subsequent shutdown of the Hillendale mine and the Empangeni facilities planned for early 2013.”

The fact that very few new jobs would be created was highlighted by environmentalist Andrew Venter and by Stan Whitfield of the Mtunzini Conservancy and the local residents’ association.

Exxaro specialist Peter Court said at the meeting that about 200 people were employed in tourism in Mtunzini, and while there would be an impact on the sector, not all of them would lose their jobs.

Frank Rautenbach, a resident of the Xaxaza Caravan Park, which has 75 permanent residents in its 63-unit retirement village, was worried about the change in lifestyle.

“We’re living just 100m from where there is going to be mining. That means there will be noise, there will be dust,” he said.

A tree barrier has been planted to shield the homes from where the mining woud take place, but Rautenbach said this wouldn’t be of much help.

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