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PLAAS SEMINAR: Not a vestige agrarian population: Why South Africa’s Xolobeni community said no to mining investments

Venue: PLAAS Boardroom
Date: 12 Mar 2019
Time: 13:00 to 14:00

Presenter: Dr Phillan Zamchiya

Senior Researcher, PLAAS, UWC

The South African government with its ideological faith in the benefits of foreign investments continue to support the acquisition of customary land for large-scale mining projects even against the universal principle that affords communities the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). One dominant view is that long historic processes of colonialism, capitalist development and implementation of neo-liberal structural policies have resulted in deagrarinisation and its sub-genre of depeasantisation. I argue that this long historic process epitomised by the deactivation of agriculture was uneven between and within communities across South Africa. Failure to understand the differentiated outcomes, has partly led to the misunderstanding of all communities as poor, pristine and relic agrarian populations that need to be modernised through a new wave of large-scale capitalist projects even against their legal right to say no and local metis about notions of development. To substantiate, I use the case study of Xolobeni, which is situated on the Wild Coast, in the Eastern Cape Province and is locked in a battle with Transworld Energy and Minerals Resources from Australia, which wants to acquire a mining licence in the area. The Xolobeni community won a major court battle. The Judge ruled that the community has the right to say yes or no to mining in line with the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act (IPILRA). Beyond the legal right, the community resists this form of development citing their activated agricultural fields, grazing lands, harvests from natural resources among other wider livelihoods benefits, which outweigh envisaged mining benefits. For some of the households, land and ocean based activities are central to having achieved a position of relative wealth, while for others they are critical to the maintaining of day-to-day life. However, in all cases land based livelihoods are essential in enabling households to create a higher standard of living. Within that context, most members of the Xolobeni community prefer an agrarian based model of development and investments in tourism rather than mining. However, the government has appealed against the court ruling, continue to back non-voluntary acquisition of land, marshal rural elites such as traditional leaders and hired gangs to coerce the community to submit to its vision of large-scale capitalist development.

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