Crime and Business

Hit on an anti-mining activist demands a rethink

Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe
bazooka.jpg

The death under suspicious circumstances of a prominent anti-mining activist has raised the question to what extent organised crime has penetrated sections of South Africa’s business community.

The dreadful assassination last week – he was shot eight times by two men claiming to be policemen – of Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe, a leading anti-mining activist on the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape, is yet another example of the highly controversial, unethical and often violent manner, in which big business is conducted in South Africa.

Already staggering under a multitude of revelations of sophisticated and elaborate, but not always discreet, plans of ‘state capture’ by politically well-connected big business – personified by the Guptas – most South Africans are still shocked by the often brutal physical removal of a person or persons standing in the way of those determined to clinch, in many cases, dubious business deals.

The callous and cold-blooded slaying of ‘Bazooka’ Radebe is the latest grim example.

Universal

It would be wrong to assume this is happening only in South Africa.

Objectionable business practices, including murder and assassination, are global tendencies.

At the turn of the century the investigative journalist, Misha Gleny, published a provocative and well-researched book aptly titled McMafia.

It is an astonishing account of the way in which questionable and unethical business practices not only increased dramatically globally. It also exposed the growing intertwinement of organised crime and politics. 

 In his 1975 novel, Iceberg, Clive Cussler already in part explored the interaction of even international politics and organised crime in the resource-rich North Atlantic iceberg fields of the United States and Canada.   

It is safe to argue that this trend is not only present in South Africa, but is also on the increase internationally. One of the main topics of public discourse at the moment revolves around ‘state capture’ by unscrupulous business people and corruption of epic proportions.

And internationally state capture is not dissimilar to the South African situation.

Recently former Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi, for instance, revealed something of the business relationship between the Zuma-Gupta axis and Equatorial Guinea’s dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

During a 2008 state visit by the then deputy president, Jacob Zuma, to Equatorial Guinea for that country’s independence celebrations. Rajesh Gupta and Zuma’s son Duduzane went along and had hours of private discussions with Obiang.

Last week in BizNews Dirk Hartford wrote about the Obiang/Zuma connection: “It is unclear what it is that makes Equatorial Guinea so important to SA interests, compared to other African countries that Zuma has visited so much. The depravity, greed and proven corruption of the Obiang family is well known.”

He also noted that a huge amount of detailed information is public in judgements against them (the Obiang family) “through courts in France and the USA and in- depth reports of major established international human rights organisations.”

Mining sector

The mining sector, for long the mainstay of the South African economy, has over the years also seen its fair share of underhand and devious business practices. In this respect the name of Cecil John Rhodes immediately springs to mind and in more recent times the name Kebble is not unfamiliar.

Using force and the elimination of people are practices not alien to the industry. The general assumption in the media is that the physical removal of Bazooka Rhadebe was the method of choice to try and silence the local anti-mining lobby in the Xolobeni area of the Wild Coast.

Bazooka Rhadhebe was not the first victim of the ongoing mining dispute in the Wild Coast and he will probably not be the last.

As Ayabonga Cawe wrote in Daily Maverick, “What Bazooka’s death reminds us of are two related issues. First, that the notion of ‘public participation’ and ‘prior consent’ of communities in mining-affected areas often has very little scope for dissenting views.

“Where such dissent emerges it is seen as unreasonable and counter to the development efforts of the community. This is not surprising in a country built on violent extraction of people and natural resources for profit.

“Second, once ‘mining as the sine qua non for development’ is challenged and alternatives presented, the contest of ideas around how ‘development’ should be pursued is often deadly.

“These two issues, read alongside each other, present interesting insights into how mining interests across the continent often have little regard for human life and the land on which such life is lived.”

Caught the attention

The tension between local pro-and anti-opencast titanium mining groups in the Wild Coast has been simmering for years and violence has been a regular occurrence. 

What is significant is the role and involvement of the controversial and ostensibly politically well-connected Australian mining company, Mineral Resource Commodities (MRC).

MRC and its local subsidiary Transworld Energy and Minerals (TEM) aim to mine titanium on the Xolobeni coastal dunes, but opposition has been vocal, with locals arguing it would destroy ecotourism in the area and would result in the removal of people from their ancestral land and the destruction of their livelihoods.

MRC and its abrasive chairman, Mark Caruso, are not unfamiliar to controversy.

Various voices, including trade unions and the Bench Marks Foundation, which monitor the policies and actions of multinationals around the world‚ especially in the mining industry, have accused MRC and Mark Caruso of abuse, intimidation and of inciting violence.

Calls for action against MRC and its chairman, including revoking the company’s mining licence, have been made repeatedly.

MRC featured extensively in the media headlines in November 2015 with what was described as its heavy-handed response to a strike at its controversial Tonmin mineral sands mine near Vredendal on the Cape West Coast.

It came against the background of accusations that the company has expanded its operations illegally, has mined in conservation areas, has pumped raw sewerage into the sea and has caused an environmental catastrophe in the collapse of sensitive cliff dunes at the mine site.

With the Hawks investigating the death of Bazooka Rhadebe, there is still no evidence to link MRC to the incident, despite strong suspicion.

Rhadebe’s death, however, strengthens the argument and calls for firmer oversight over the business practices of mining companies and their dealings with the local population in the areas where they operate.

In the aftermath of Marikana and the fear that has now gripped the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape, the mining sector in South Africa can ill afford further setbacks of a similar kind.

by Sniffer Dog

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