Rural community divided over open-pit iron-ore mining in KZN 

A mining company owned by Mauritius-based entity Jindal Steel and Power together with a South African BBBEE partner holding a 25% stake in the project are at the centre of a storm over mining rights in a rural KwaZulu-Natal community. 

The company faces opposition to developing an open-pit iron-ore mine and a processing facility in the foothills of eMakhasaneni under the Mthonjaneni local municipality. 

The project was halted in 2016 following strong opposition from residents and various environmental rights organisations. 

This week residents opposing the project told Sunday World that they are being threatened. 

“Bathi bazosidingisa noma sizovika inhlamvu uma siqhubeka nokuphila umazibuse endaweni yenkosi.” (They threaten to banish us from our land or face death because we are against the local chief.) 

These are the chilling words of Sibongakonke Ngidi, a land rights activist in eNtembeni village in Melmoth, northern KwaZulu-Natal.  

Ngidi is among residents who are -opposed to Jindal’s efforts to mine on their ancestral land. 

Residents recently scored a major victory when the Department of Minerals and Energy turned down the application to mine, citing gaps in the Environmental Impact Assessment. 

Parshant Goyal, the general manager for mines and business development at Jindal said they have appealed the decision by the department to turn down their application. “We have not given up on continuing with this investment,” he said. 

If the mining project goes ahead, it will result in the extraction of 32 million tonnes  of iron ore per annum, which would be processed on site to produce approximately seven-million tonnes  of iron-ore concentrate a year. 

Land rights activists who spoke to Sunday World claim the threats of being killed or banished from their area continue. 

“We are being terrorised by those serving in the eNtembeni tribal authority. Many activists have fled and are in hiding. Unlike others, I won’t run. I will stay on and fight even if it means I die,” said Nhlanhla Ngema.   

Villagers blame the local chief Inkosi Thandazani Zulu and his henchmen for their woes. 

“The chief and his council have sold us out. They have been bought with our blood. Last month unknown armed men came to my homestead and threatened that I would be banished from the area because I’m spreading lies about inkosi,” Ngema told Sunday World. 

But Thembani Zulu, who serves in the traditional authority denied the allegations. 

“These people are not from our area. They want to muddy the waters so that Mthonjaneni (Melmoth) and its people will remain trapped in poverty.  

“Inkosi has not forced anyone to accept the mine. We are regularly consulting the communities who will be affected through an established committee,” said Zulu. 

He said the anti-mining resistance was sponsored by white farmers and environmental groupings.   

The rural town is known for its agricultural economy underpinned by sugarcane and timber cultivation and citrus farming. 

The Mthonjaneni local municipality says mining will unlock much-needed jobs and improve the municipality’s purse.  

“We do not want to seem to be taking sides in the ongoing standoff.  

“You do know that the mine is a contentious issue. But not shying away from all those factors, it will definitely have substantial benefits for a small municipality like ours with a limited budget,” said Mbangiseni Biyela, the local mayor.  

He said the population growth in Melmoth has not been considered in the equitable share they receive from the provincial treasury making it difficult to provide critical services.  

Jindal on the other hand says the iron-ore mine will be the biggest foreign investment in the country with indirect and direct capital estimated to be about R15-billion, creating about 2  000 permanent jobs.  

According to Statistics South Africa recent census results, Mthonjaneni has a population  of about 50 000. 


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