Jun 11, 2013

Vhavenda: Ongoing Fight For Mupo

The struggle of the indigenous South African Vhavenda people against the African mining company CoAL continues.

Below is an article published by shoah.com:

On 16th February 2013 in Venda, South Africa, members of the Indigenous VhaVenda clans and a high profile representative of the CoAL of Africa mining company drove out through vast stretches of the Venda territory–Their destination a ‘public participation’ meeting concerning a new and controversial mine proposed for the region.

Along the way, the impacts of groundwater extraction for mining taking place many miles away are obvious. The land is parched and cracked, plants are few and far between, and the streams where water once flowed now run dry. This landscape is a warning, a premonition of what much of Venda may come to look like if more extraction is permitted.

The VhaVenda people know this. Communities are now raising their voices in resistance to new mining that threatens their sacred natural sites, livelihoods and the coherency of their existence. Their struggle to be heard and for the recognition of their rights to govern and protect their sacred natural sites and territories has become emblematic of the critical need for a new direction in South Africa; One that maintains the health and integrity of people and Earth rather than reserving compassion for industry.

With the nation facing a looming crisis over water and its over-reliance on harmful energy sources provided by the mining sector, saying NO to mining is essential to the health and well-being of future generations.


Coal Rush


A recent Greenpeace report highlighting the severity of South Africa’s reliance on coal revealed that ninety percent of the country’s electricity is now produced using energy from coal fired power plants.

This is a shocking statistic in a world where all nations must look to reduce their emissions and combat climate change, yet there appear to be no immediate plans to address this over-dependence. Eskom,SA’s biggest electricity provider, has just announced government backed plans to build two more plants, each with a life span of fifty years.

South Africa’s commitment to coal for at least another two generations is environmentally catastrophic, but the growing national and international demand for coal has provided ample economic motivation to ignore this.

Coal is big business and South Africa has a growing domestic population as well as strong links to an international market hungry for its subterranean resources. Naturally, the usual suspects of foreign mining investment are knocking at, or have already walked through the nations door. With their vast wealth they are considered welcome guests by many and tout themselves as harbingers of economic growth and a solution to unemployment.

One of the many foreign suppliers that have taken up the mantle of coal extraction in the ‘rainbow nation’ is Coal of Africa (CoAL), an Australian-based coal mining company that has had a presence in the country for years. With operations slowing down at two of its older mines, the company, looking to consolidate its revenue streams, has recently developed a significant interest in Limpopo Province.

Keen to exploit the areas’ reserves of ‘black gold’ it has submitted two applications for New Order Mining Rights (NOMR) to the Department of Mineral Resources to mine at two locations in the region. However, it has not been able to fully begin extraction.

CoAL is currently only able to mine in a restricted capacity at its Vele colliery, which stands a mere 6km away from the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the Vhembe biosphere. Operations have been blocked at the Makhado Project in Venda.

The development of activities at both mines has stalled as they have encountered significant challenges in acquiring the necessary environmental licensing. This can be put down to both CoAL’s failures to meet legally required standards and the pro-active efforts of civil society groups and international allies.

In the case of the Vele mine, these pro-active parties endured a protracted court case, false dawns and numerous broken promises at the hands of CoAL. Whilst the goal of halting operations entirely has not yet been achieved they have been successful in demonstrating the adverse impacts both projects are likely to have on the integrity of local ecosystems and communities. This fundamentally calls into question CoAL’s claims that it will “demonstrate active stewardship of land and biodiversity” and “respect peoples’ culture and heritage.”


Defending Mupo from the mines


Local communities have played a highly significant role in restricting CoAL’s freedoms so far. Resistance has risen particularly strongly amongst the Indigenous VhaVenda people, many of whom are actively opposing CoAL’s Makhado mine in Venda. At the heart of their efforts to protect the land is the VhaVenda belief that minerals such as coal are not inert ‘resources’ but living elements of their territory; This extends not only horizontally across the land but also vertically to the constellations and deep into the Earth. All the elements and members of this territory are connected and vitally important for the health of the whole community.

Minerals in particular are revered in VhaVenda culture due to the role they play in maintaining the balance in Zwifho (Sacred Natural Sites in the VhaVenda language) and Mupo–Mother Earth, the Universe, all of creation which is not human made–rather than their profitability. According to the Makhadzi (‘rainmakers’), female spiritual custodians of Venda Sacred Natural Sites:

“Minerals and metals are the heart of the Earth. They are the Earth, especially in our Zwifho, our sacred sites.”

The vitality of these Zwifho is key to the health of the whole ecosystem in terms of customary governance, spirituality and biodiversity. The Makhadzi practice rituals to maintain the balance of Mupo at Zwifho which often correspond with natural features in the ecosystem that are vital for the health of the whole, such as forests and water sources. By respecting these sites as sacred the custodians play a vital ecological role, protecting the vital links between interdependent elements of the ecosystem.

The VhaVenda are acutely aware of the threat mining poses to their Zwifho and territory having seen the impact it has had in nearby areas. The Makhadzi have explicitly said that “(Zwifho) will die if minerals or metals are removed. Their life force will be drained. If we do this we will kill Mupo, our Mother Earth.”

Recognizing the destruction to their territories mining will cause, many Makhadzi are now responding under the banner of a group called Dzomo la Mupo (‘Mouth and Voice of the Earth’), which exists to work for the protection of Mupo and networks of Zwifho.

The group has already had some success in holding those responsible for previous environmental damages, perpetrated by tourism initiatives, to account. Yet the group faces a far greater challenge with the Makhado mining project. The key to upholding the integrity of Mupo now lies in stopping large-scale mining from getting underway at all. Failure to do so could have disastrous repercussions for the “heart of the Earth” and those who depend on her. […]