Over two separate trips, I worked with Le Monde.fr and GOOD Magazine to produce a series of images that set out to document an ongoing dispute dividing the community of Pondoland in Xolobeni on the Wild Coast of South Africa. The pristine, agriculturally rich rural homeland of the Mpondo people could be destroyed if the titanium-rich coastal sand dunes are mined by an Australian company called Mineral Commodities Ltd.
Here is an excerpt written by Kimon de Greef for GOOD Magazine, titled Below the Surface – The assassination of an environmental activist reveals the complexities and corruption in South Africa’s Mining industry.
Despite this history of dispossession, or perhaps because of it, Pondoland residents maintain a deep connection to the ground. Most practice subsistence agriculture, cultivating food crops—maize, sweet potatoes, bananas, sugarcane—and grazing their livestock on communal fields. The area is poor in monetary terms, even by the standards of South Africa, where half of the total population of 50 million lives below the national poverty line of $53 per month. But in Pondoland, the effects of this hardship are attenuated by traditional livelihoods, which have been preserved by geographic isolation and strong community ties. For many residents, land—one of South Africa’s most contested resources, still unequally distributed 22 years after apartheid ended—holds more value than money.
Mining is now the biggest issue dividing people in Xolobeni. Although no longer classified as a tribal reserve, Pondoland is still governed, at the local level, by traditional authorities: a royal family, regional chiefs, and village headmen and headwomen. Issues are usually discussed at weekly tribal council meetings called komkhulu, where participants reach decisions by consensus. But instead of taking their proposals to these forums, the mining lobby has co-opted local leaders, turned residents against one another, and “engaged in organized campaigns of violence,” according to a formal objection to the mining application lodged by lawyers representing the Amadiba Crisis Committee in March—the same month as Bazooka’s murder.
This past September, the South African government issued an 18-month moratorium on all applications for mining and prospecting in the Xolobeni area due to “significant social disintegration” and the “highly volatile nature” of the conflict.