Recently our good friends Brandon and Meagen invited us to go with them on a Jeep trip to a place called Xolobeni, just past the KwaZulu Natal border in the Eastern Cape. We had never been there, so accepted right away. Brandon sent me a couple links about the area, which has had a lot of interest around it. He mentioned that the trip might not happen, as they might not be able to get permits. They eventually came through though, and on Friday 10 June, we were on our way down the KwaZulu Natal south coast.
We stayed the night at an AirBnb in Southbroom, which was amazing. The KZN south coast is really beautiful; a place I haven’t spent much time in. The next morning, we were up early to meet the rest of the Jeep drivers at Mac Banana, where everyone was briefed on what was going to happen. I felt like I had happened upon a whole new subculture. As far as I know, the Jeeps were all the same or similar models, but they all looked pretty different. All of them were different colours, with different “mods” and stickers. People were wearing Jeep branded gear… I was fascinated. It felt so far removed from my world. Brandon’s one definitely looked the coolest though, all black in famous Doom fashion.
We had a short drive on the highway, before turning onto dirt roads. The drive just got more and more beautiful the further we went, and we wound our way through hills, valleys, past rivers and rural villages.
At one point, one of the Jeep’s close to the front got stuck, and the line came to a stand-still. Members of the local community began to gather around. Some tried to help, and others started asking questions. The atmosphere went from one of interest to one of tension, as the community demanded to see proof that we were permitted to be there. One of the leaders told them that we had permission from the Eastern Cape Government to be there. “We don’t care about that. Did you get permission from the chief?” was the response. Apparently we had permission though, and one of the leaders called the chief to confirm. Once the chief gave his OK, the crowd instantly relaxed, but still insisted that two men go with us. I completely understand their concern and aggression. This community has had a hard time with a mining company. One day twenty-five Jeep Wranglers show up. Of course you would be suspicious. Thankfully the tension didn’t amount to anything, and we were on our way.
I must admit that it felt pretty weird to be part of a big group of mostly white, relatively wealthy Jeep owners, driving through areas of poverty. Their roads are terrible, and we were using them for our enjoyment.
At the end of the day it was a very beautiful, interesting and exciting trip where we saw some amazing red sand dunes and drove four-wheel-drive through some gnarly terrain to reach the beach, where we picnicked on the beach and ate vegan hot dogs. We really appreciated the experience and the opportunity to see some of the serious challenges communities like this can experience.
About the area and the conflict surrounding it:
“My tears won’t fall on the ground for nothing. You can bring your machine guns. I am prepared to die for my land; I am not going anywhere.” – quote by a local woman.
So you can watch the trailer, visit the site, and click the links below to find out more, but I’ll try my best to summarise it here for you:
An Australian mining company called Mineral Resource Commodities wanted to strip-mine the sand dunes for ilmenite, the ore that contains titanium, one of the world’s most commercially valuable metals. They applied for rights to mine the area. The local residents reject the claim that this would be good for the economy, and they believe that it will destroy their home and way of life. The conflict got to a point where activist Sikhosiphi Rhadebe was brutally murdered in front of his son. It is suspected that the mining company was involved.
There is a documentary that has been made about the conflict here called The Shore Break.
Here’s the trailer:
Words by Pete | Photo’s by Cara | Special thanks to Brandon van Eeden for the links and info