Residents of Mtunzini, a small holiday town on the North Coast, are to take on a multinational mining company that wants to mine on their doorsteps.

On one side are the residents, a group of about 2 400 people. In the past, they made a living mainly from eco-tourism. On the other side is Tronox KZN Sands. The multinational company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and is one of the world’s largest titanium miners. The company operates across four continents and employs 3 600 people worldwide.

The company first started operating a mine in Hillendale, just outside Esikhawini, near Richards Bay.  In July, they were given permission by the government to mine near the town of Mtunzini.

The mine, called Fairbreeze, has expanded over the years, and now plans are afoot to mine four sand dunes within 100m of the nearest homes. However, residents are prepared to go to court to stop the mining. They fear the environment will be damaged and the proximity of the mining will affect their health. The residents lodged an appeal with an independent tribunal to reverse the permission Tronox got from the government to mine. However, Tronox has gone to court to uphold the permission they were granted.

Barbara Chedzey, chairwoman of the Mtunzini Conservancy, said that the environmental impact assessment done by Tronox had expired. “This mine has been looming over our heads for the last 15 years now. There have been so many changes made to it,” she said.

“First they wanted to mine four dunes, and then they added a fifth, but we managed to stop that because that dune is a part of the Umlalazi Nature Reserve. Now they have targeted the dune closet to us – it’s just 100m away,” she said.

She said that the mine would also have two slime dams that would extend over 600 hectares.

“A soccer field is half a hectare big. The slime dams are going to be massive, and they have their own risk as well,” she said. “Our natural environment is a huge attraction, because we have more than 400 bird species in our conservancy. Most of the town’s income is derived from tourism. But all of this is now threatened by the mine,” said Chezdey.

She added: “We are also very worried about the rehabilitation of land once the mining has stopped. You just have to look at what happened in Hillendale where Tronox last mined to understand our fears. The land is destroyed. You can not remove fertile soil, dig 30m deep and expect everything to be okay again.”

Doggy Kewley, a resident of Mtunzini, said that the mine would damage the town. “There are about 600 houses here, and people who are closet to the mine have already put their houses up for sale. This is going to be devastating for us. The mine is also going to be using millions of water a day in an area that has a water shortage,” he said.

However, not everyone agrees. Sipho Mataba, a community leader in Obanjeni, the closest village to the mine, said his community welcomed the mine. “We are very happy about this mine, because here in Obanjeni we are very desperate for jobs. Young men and woman here have no income, so this will help put food on tables in many homes.”

He confirmed that some community members had started working on the construction phase of the mine.

“We know there has been a lot of tension surrounding this mine, and that there are a lot of people that do not want this mine.”

A month ago, Tronox released their second-quarter financial statements. They predicted the Fairbreeze mine would begin operations during the second half of 2015 and be fully operational by 2016. They also reported that they planned to spend $365-million on the mine – that’s about a R4-billion investment. Answering questions sent to its communications department, Tronox said: “An environmental impact assessment was done for both the Fairbreeze C extension and the A, B and C ore bodies. There are two methods for completing an EIA under the current regulations. One is the basic assessment report, while the other is the scoping and environmental impact report. The latter was used for the C extension area, while the first was used for the A, B and C areas.”
The company also said that the infrastructure design and the water allocation from Umhlatuze Water is designed to allow for the peak projected demand of around 48 million litres of water a day.
“Average water requirements are expected to be between 19 million litres and 36 million litres per day, depending on the project phase and mining conditions. The water used is raw river water, and does not compete with drinking-water supplies of the Mtunzini area,” they said.

According to the company, the mine will have 746 permanent employees, 300 permanent contractors, and will create around 1 000 temporary jobs during the construction phase. The latest production plans for the mine predict production to begin in late 2015, and it is expected to end in 2029.

Tronox also defended their rehabilitation methods, saying: “The rehabilitation methods proposed for the Fairbreeze mine are based on scientific research, recommendations from specialists in the field of soil restoration, and experienced gained from several of the other Tronox mining operations.”

A spokesman for the KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Bheko Madlala, confirmed that permission for the mine was granted, and that studies conducted during the environmental impact assessment process were instrumental in the decision. “Ore body D, which is in close proximity to Umlalazi Nature Reserve was not approved by the department”, he said.

Musa Mntambo, spokesman for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, said the mine’s impact on the Umlalazi Nature Reserve was expected to be minimal.