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Mining opponents harassed, killed in South Africa, HRW says

Apr 16 2019 11:02
Antony Sguazzin

Community activists who oppose mining projects in South Africa are often harassed, threatened and sometimes killed, according to a report by advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch.

While South Africa has one of the world’s biggest mining industries, the activities of companies extracting metals and minerals ranging from platinum to coal have often run afoul of communities because of the impact they have on land use ranging from traditional burial grounds to grazing land. At the same time, projects often divide communities as they also bring jobs and other opportunities.

Municipalities frequently block attempts by communities to protest against projects by using reasons that have no basis in law, HRW said Tuesday in a report entitled “We Know Our Lives Are in Danger” it prepared with groundWork, Earthjustice and the Centre for Environmental Rights. Peaceful demonstrations are often violently broken up by police, it said.

There are “threats to personal security of community-rights defenders and environmental groups, restrictive interpretation of protest laws, police violence and harassment” through legal filings or social-media campaigns, the groups said. These have “contributed to an environment of fear in some mining-affected communities.”

Unsolved Murder

The report documents threats and attacks in four provinces between 2013 and 2018 and shows their origins are often unknown, though activists believe they were initiated by the police, government officials, private security companies or other groups acting on behalf of mining companies.

The report makes reference to the March 2016 murder of Sikhosiphi Rhadebe, the chairperson of a community-based organisation formed to oppose mineral-sands mining by Mineral Commodities in Xolobeni, in the Eastern Cape. To date, no suspects in his killing have been identified by the police.

The Minerals Council of South Africa, which represents 77 mining companies operating in South Africa, said it’s not aware of any threats or attacks on activists near its members’ mines, according to the report.

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