Above the rolling waves of the Indian Ocean, throughout Amadiba’s lush, green hills, funerals have become celebrations.
One by one, delegations from the area’s villages march and toyi-toyi to the meeting place while singing songs from the anti-apartheid struggle. The uniquely South African choruses swell as elderly women ululate. War drums beat chaotic melodies as young men dance and brandish sticks in the traditional manner of Pondoland.
It’s been a year since community leader and anti-mining activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe died in a hail of bullets, and the community is gathering to celebrate him on Human Rights Day, a South African holiday marking the police massacre of more than 50 people at a 1960 protest of apartheid policies. In March of last year, assassins posed as police, a blue light flashing deceptively from their car as they approached Radebe’s home in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.
Radebe’s teenage son was close enough to count the eight rounds they fired. Those who knew Radebe, a middle-aged owner of a taxi business, say he spoke of a hit list with his name on it just before his death and that it was his activism that led to his murder.
Radebe was the chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, a community group formed in 2007 to oppose an Australian mining company, Mineral Commodities Ltd, that held prospecting rights along a strip of coast more than 13 miles long and extending nearly a mile inland at some points. The company and its subsidiary, Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources SA (Pty) Ltd, which owns the project, want to mine titanium from the burnt-red dunes separating the ocean from the five villages that make up the area known as Amadiba in the Eastern Cape.
For more than a decade, residents have fought proposed mining development, arguing that eco-tourism could be the area’s economic stimulus while not interfering with its agrarian lifestyle. But in a country where mineral rights are owned by the state and the minerals department argues mining is in the “national interest,” the Crisis Committee has faced an uphill battle.
Amadiba is but one of the numerous communities pushing back against projects financed by international mining ventures. In this region, the usual complaints against international mining conglomerates are exacerbated by a further complication: due to laws based around apartheid-era governance, local leaders feel empowered to make binding financial decisions about public land, creating a scenario ripe for corruption.
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