In leading opposition to attempts to move eMpembeni residents for mining-related reasons Vumani Shandu enjoys the support of many residents whose rights are threatened. In eMpemeni, kwaDube (near Richards Bay) as in other mining-affected communities in KZN, residents’ rights are being trampled on by mining operations. To make way for mining operations carried out by Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) in kwaDube an unknown number of families were persuaded to vacate their lands and move elsewhere, allegedly with minimal compensation. Recently, in another area around Lake Cubhu, residents have been told by persons associated with the Traditional Authority that they will need to move for ‘oil’. They have seen what has happened to those who moved for RBM operations, and they are determined to oppose relocation, and losing their homesteads, gardens and grazing. These residents have legal rights to the land they live on, which rights vis a vis mineral rights have recently been upheld by the Constitutional Court
Vumani Shandu was among those who, in early July 2018, were planning a public protest. However, after two men – one a close associate and the other a relative – were shot dead, and fearing for his safety, he went into hiding out of the area. The murder of Geshege Nkwenyana on 10 July was followed by the assassination of Mthuthuko Dladla three days later. Both men were killed while returning to eMpembeni from Richards Bay. Further killings followed : Khaya Ncube died on16 September and Keke Ngwane was shot dead at the Esikhawini mall in the middle of the day on 26 September. Wiseman Hadebe died in a hail of around fifteen bullets at Ngwelezana, while waiting for a lift to work; he had left Mpembeni after a close associate had been killed and he had been warned he was also a marked man. Mandlankosi Makhoba, chairperson of the local Small Business Association, was shot dead on 13 December. There have been at least three other attempted murders. When Hadebe, a train driver and member of a respected local family was killed, the Empangeni SAPS fed what eMpembeni residents claim is ‘fake news’ to the media. Allusions were made to a supposed ‘shootout’ and a ‘rumour’ that the deceased had been involved in gangsterism The Empangeni Station Commissioner has not responded to questions requesting clarification emailed to him a month ago.
On 10th October 2018 Vumani Shandu miraculously, survived an assassination attempt in the area in which he is in hiding. Shortly before Christmas he received an anonymous text message threatening to kill him and/or his family. The Esikhawini SAPS are to be commended for deploying patrols in the vicinity of the family home.
Various eMpembeni residents have confirmed, independently, that the only reason they have been given when told they must move is that it is for ‘oil mining’ (sometimes an overseas country is named). It is known that there has been aerial and land surveying in the area around Cubhu lake (reportedly one of those linked to the supply of water to Richards Bay). However, the only known oil-related activities relate to the application by Eni and Sasol to prospect for oil and gas nearby, but offshore. For the past six months all attempts to find out what the plans are for the area have drawn a blank. There have been no responses to letters to the office of the National Minister for Mineral Resources, the KZN Premier, the MEC for Finance, sundry Parliamentary Portfolio Committees in Cape Town and those sent to the provincial Head of Department and MEC for CoGTA. The National CoGTA Minister referred the matter to the Head of his Department and a response is still awaited. The Ingonyama Trust must have given a lease for the land (King Zwelithini is said to approve of whatever is planned), but emails sent to the Board have been returned. Unless the Trust is not briefing CoGTA about leases it is giving out, this Department must surely know what is happening, since the Traditional Authority is implicated. Is there any relationship between these events and the proposed off-shore prospecting? Government departments have been told how serious the situation is, yet they remain silent while people continue to die. Why this secrecy? Do they not know what their Constitutional obligations are towards those whose areas they administer?
Piecing together information from various sources, it seems that corruption lies at the heart these killings. Some of those who have died knew of gross corruption relating to tender allocation (involving work for RBM), and alleged serious corruption in the Traditional Authority, possibly linked to a payment to the Authority made by the Ingonyama Trust relating to mining income. It is rumoured that even the local Inkosi (traditional leader) is in hiding. It is believed that the proposed new mining-related activities will bring further, extremely lucrative, business opportunities for those who have already cornered the tender market – which may be the motive for the elimination of people who are opposing moving to make way for them.
The killings are, without doubt, the work of trained hit men and strange vehicles seen in the area have false number plates. Despite the existence of sundry leads (believed to include some CCTV footage) no arrests have been reported. Community members fear to trust the current investigators with information they have gathered and have requested national intervention. The lives of Vumani Shandu – who continues to duck and dive for cover in different locations– and his family are in grave danger. This situation, including the shroud of secrecy which envelopes it, cannot be allowed to continue : Urgent action is needed to prevent further killings.