South Africa’s High Court has ruled that government officials must first obtain consent from affected communities before they can grant mineral rights — a landmark legal victory for environmental activists who have fought a years-long battle to stop a proposed titanium mine in South Africa’s Pondoland region.
Before the ruling last week, South Africa’s mining laws required companies to consult affected communities, but did not require explicit permission from them to dig. Now, these communities “may not be deprived of their land without their consent,” High Court Judge Annali Basson told local newspapers.
The sand dunes that run along the eastern coast of Pondoland, South Africa’s least economically developed region, hold one of the world’s richest reserves of ilmenite, the ore that contains the metal titanium. Transworld Energy and Minerals, the South African subsidiary of Australian mining company Mineral Resource Commodities, applied for mining rights to develop a massive opencast pit with a 25-year lifespan and projected annual revenues of $180 million. But the proposal has been met with opposition from Pondoland’s Xolobeni community — a conflict that has resulted in the death of at least one Xolobeni activist leader and violent threats against several others.
“Our country has hope because the courts of law provide real justice for citizens despite politicians who are looting South Africa in the name of development,” Nonhle Mbuthuma, leader of the Amadiba Crisis Committee — the Xolobeni activist group created to stop the mine — told The Guardian. “We’ve set a precedent for all other communities facing this situation across Africa and the world. Until now, mining has been imposed on us. Now this judgment is a tool for communities to protect their land.”
For more on the situation in Pondoland, click here to read Yale Environment 360’s three-part series Environmentalists at Risk.