“Hands off our Activists!” – Activist wins court case in Newcastle

 Newcastle community in solidarity at court

What a victory for mining affected communities when the Prosecutor announced that the case against Lucky Tshabalala had been withdrawn on July 22 2019. Tshabalala had been accused of intimidation and assault against an Ikwezi mine manager. The Ikwezi Mining project located in a rural settlement in northern KwaZulu-Natal has caused pain and frustration for the local community, with dozens of people forcibly relocated, grave sites exhumed, and homes bulldozed to dust. Kliprand Colliery, the first phase of Ikwezi’s Newcastle project, is set to extract from more than 12,000 hectares of South Africa’s largest remaining undeveloped coal resources.
Since the case was lodged in April, with trial set for June, Tshabalala maintained that he was innocent. But the mine had two witnesses who claimed he was guilty. The case seemed like it would be impossible to win because of the mine’s strong witnesses from the mine. Even worse, the case scared community members and they lacked confidence to testify for Tshabalala.
The Newcastle community has a lot of experience with activists who stand for their rights and exercise their right to say no to mining suffering harassment and threats. Activists stood firm for men and women who have lost their land, and whose houses are cracking due to blasting. Many community members have been displaced by the mine and are now staying in dark shacks throughout winter, their children suffering. Graves have been relocated without families’ consent, forced to accept R20 000 compensation to perform traditional burial rites and ceremonies. The mine turned its back on promises of creating jobs for local community and building proper houses for them before they were moved.
There is a history intimidation of activists fighting against Ikwezi Mine. Recently, Tshabalala and three other community members received a court interdict from Ikwezi. The interdict instructed them to be arrested if they come anywhere near mining area. Just another case of the company’s tactics to destroy communities by suppressing the Right to Say No, and instilling fear, division and silence for those who want to mobilise against the mine.
On the 22 July 2019, the prosecutor withdrew the case. This was a huge win for the community who came in their numbers to support Lucky in court and staged a picket on the day of the trial. The Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) failed to present themselves at the court case, and it became increasingly clear via interviews with employees from DMR that Tshabalala had not assaulted or intimidate anyone and the accusations were false. For this reason, the case was withdrawn.

Newcastle community in solidarity at court 2 Newcastle picket 2

“… you can arrest people from community who stand for what is right but you can’t arrest their minds.”

Mining companies often use false accusations to discredit activists and undermine people’s voices, stepping on the rights of those who have been violated by extractive projects. They want to silence anyone who stands in the way of their profit, and the community is paying the heaviest cost having their rights to freedom of speech, of assembly threatened every day.
“I wish if you could see the mine manager the way he was frustrated, angry and absent that the case was withdrawn. The mine was so determined to get rid of the activist and destroy people’s unity. If you organised against the mine, they just send the police to arrest us. I would like to thank WoMin, Oxfam, Groundwork, my community for their support. We believe the struggle is real and it will continue. Mining company knows we as community we don’t have many to fight, we didn’t have money to pay lawyers and to come to court but with all the support we have enjoyed from other organisations we managed. This is still the beginning, the mine is not happy that their effort to get me to arrested didn’t work, we need to unite because they will their powers to come for us and we need to be ready.” – Lucky Tshabalala, Activist

By Lorraine Kakaza