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MRC disinvestment from Xolobeni Mineral Sands. The beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?

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 MRC Ltd has announced that it is disinvesting its 56% share in Transworld Energy and Minerals Pty Ltd, the applicants for the Xolobeni Mineral Sands project on the Pondoland Wild Coast, and has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with its Black Economic Empowerment partner “Keysha Investments 178”.  

It is the first time any mention has ever been made of Keysha Investments 178 in any official announcement by MRC, but the existence of the company was first discovered way back in 2007, in the original shareholding agreement that was included in the very first mining rights application, lodged in March 2007. It was only thanks to an application made under PAIA that the Amadiba coastal residents came to know about Keysha Investments 178. Hitherto they had been told that the BEE partner with MRC was the Xolobeni Empowerment Company, which had been registered in 2003 with Zamile Qunya, attorney Maxwell Boqwana and Patrick Caruso (younger brother of Mark Caruso) as first and founding directors.

Xolco had by then already been exposed by the media as lacking any legitimacy as a community based structure. In late 2006 Qunya and Boqwana ‘resigned’ in embarrassment and proceeded to co-opt certain hand-picked local residents as ‘directors’ to give plausibility to the fiction that Xolco was “representative of local residents”. (Patrick Caruso had resigned a few years earlier). One of the co-opted directors was Mr Nkululeko Msabane, headmaster of Baleni Senior Secondary School. He spilled the beans about the sorry saga in 2010 in this interview.

Read here: Interview witth Mr Nkululeko Msabane,

Interestingly in the 2007 Shareholder Agreement there was no mention made of Xolco as a BEE partner except to identify it as synonymous with Keysha Investments 178. The directors thereof were listed as “Hermien Wessels” and “Corporate Law Services”, a company registered in Centurion. Keysha was deregistered in 2009 after failing to submit annual returns and went into hibernation until it was reactivated in 2013, presumably in readiness for the second attempt to secure mining rights. That floundered too, as the film The Shore Break shows, and there was no activity reported on Keysha Investments 176 until last month when on 24 June 2016 the CIPR register records that MZWANDILE MAXWELL MARAQANA was added as a director, to accompany “Corporate Law Services”. Corporate Law Services was also a “director” of Xolco and Blue Bantry Investments 255, the BEE partner with MRC in the Tormin Mineral Sands project.

Maraqana’s name also appears as a director of Xolco. He is unknown to the Amadiba residents, but has a name that is rather hard to forget – especially when the recent history of mining disasters is remembered.

He is apparently a traditional leader from the Lusikisiki area and loyal to the claimant king of AmaMpondo Zanuzuko Sigcau.

Maxwell Boqwana claims to have no further interest in either Xolco or Keysha Investments 178, but remains a shareholder with Zamile Qunya and Mark Caruso in Blue Bantry Investments 255. So when he is not at his desk as CEO of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, or overseeing things as President of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, he is doing business with Mark Caruso and Zamile Qunya to make money for himself from the Tormin mineral sands venture.

Significantly the Executive Chair of MRC Mark Caruso chose not to put his name or personal contact details on the company announcement so “the Company” (a legal fiction in law) made the decision “after extensive consultation with Keysha” (also a legal fiction). All we know about that ‘person’ is that it is directed by Chief Maraqana, and that he also happens to be a director of Xolco.

Were his fellow Xolco directors party to the decision? According to CIPC records they are listed as Lunga Baleni, the chief of Amadiba and his uncle Khalaphile Baleni, Mary Monica Xolokazi Baleni, Mavis Bongani Denge, Nocedo Lucy Denge, Mziwakhe Dlamini, Eugenia Zodwa Langazana, Christopher Sandi Ngcwele, Johnson Ngundze and Sizwe Shezi.

The names of Maxwell Boqwana, Zamile Qunya and his younger brother Zamokwake do appear on the CIPC registers but as “Resigned Directors”.

But that does not mean they are not shareholders. Private companies have no legal obligation to reveal who their shareholders are.

Most of the residents named either as current or resigned directors were once opposed to the mining venture. Several were benefiting from the once flourishing eco-tourism initiative. So when MRC states it “has committed several significant financial, technical and social resources toward the development of the Xolobeni Mineral Sands Project since 2003”, it should be understood to mean “a ruthless co-option and subversion strategy has been followed to undermine the once thriving eco-tourism initiative”.

Heart breaking stuff.

Having sown a wind, when the whirlwind of violence and murder suddenly blew back at MRC, they did what all profit obsessed companies do, and sold out. Pressure on their major investor, Graham Edwards undoubtedly helped convince MRC directors.

So while it is huge cause for celebration that the shareholder activism campaign has worked, the consequence of MRC’s disinvestment is that we no longer have the information that they were obliged to report as a listed public company on the Australian Securities Exchange.   We do not know who the real shareholders are of Keysha Investments 176, other than someone loyal to a man that President Jacob Zuma has been trying since 2010 to install as King of AmaMpondo, so far without success.

Three of President Zuma’s appointees the deputy minister of Minerals Mr Godfrey Olifant and the deputy minister of Police Ms Maggie Sotyu and the Deputy Minister of Water and SanitationMs. Pamela Tshwete are scheduled to visit the Xolobeni area today. The claimant king Zanuzuko will be there too and is down to deliver the keynote address. Presumably his proxy Chief Maraqana, will be alongside him to be introduced as the new face of the Xolobeni mining ambitions.

The people who have been the victims of the pro-mining violence, the coastal residents whose homesteads will be demolished to make way for the mining, were certainly never consulted by MRC before their announcement.

But why would they? Poor, rural families have always been right at the bottom of the social influence scale.

The exit of MRC from this theatre of conflict is not the beginning of the end. But it is a welcome end of the beginning. Their departure means that things are going to become ever more personal, and unless there is a redoubling of international media monitoring and decisive action by the police and prosecution to re-establish the rule of law, the killing and intimidation will only escalate.

About John GI Clarke

John Clarke hopes to write the wrongs of the world, informed by his experience as a social worker and theologian, to actualise fundamental human rights and satisfy fundamental human needs.  He has lived in the urbanised concentration of Johannesburg, but has worked mainly in the rural reaches of the Wild Coast for the past decade.  From having paid a fortune in toll fees he believes he has earned the right to be critical of Sanral and other extractive institutions, and has not held back while supporting Sustaining the Wild Coast (www.swc.org.za), the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (www.safcei.org.za) and the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (www.outa.co.za), in various ways.

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