Struggle continues to protect Namosi from mining in Fiji
March 2020: Kositatino Tikomaibolatagane from Caritas Fiji and the Catholic Archdiocese of Suva reports on a recent visit by a World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation to Fiji, focusing on issues of land, displacement and indigenous rights. They met representatives of three communities affected by mining or extractive industries, which included the region of Namosi, whose experience of mineral prospecting was covered in the 2016 State of the Environment for Oceania report.
Namosi is an indigenous farming community located in the mountains of Viti Levu about 50 kilometres southwest of Suva. They have been affected for 52 years by exploration and exploitation of the land for the extraction of different minerals: copper, gravel and gold, among others. Some of the environmental implications of the mining and prospecting activities include the contamination of rivers and streams, loss of ancestral trees, and loss of flora and fauna both in the jungle and the rivers. The WCC delegation met with four leaders of the Tikina Namosi Landowners Committee (TNLC) who are based in Suva, as heavy rains and a prospective cyclone cancelled a visit to Namosi itself. The TNLC was formed in 2009 to document, resist and transform the environmental and social injustices of mining.
The environmental impacts of the extraction operations have affected peoples' livelihoods as well as their relationship with ancestral land and waters. This has been aggravated by legal frameworks that favour the exploitation of minerals to the detriment of people’s rights. The leaders of Namosi explained how the Fijian legislation is rooted in the Mining Act that dates back to colonial times; it does not fully recognize the indigenous communities’ rights and their ownership of the land. The constitution of 2013 gives “customary rights” but not “ownership rights” to these communities, which implies that the government can lease the soil beyond six feet underground. This disrupts and violates the indigenous understanding that the land and water sources are a whole, an indivisible unity.
The multiple stages and levels of action planned by the TNLC - which include monitoring the impacts on the environment, working on the unity of the community, and advocating to the national government - are a sign of hope that dialogue, diplomacy and negotiation can bring transformation to the current situation. While not all the requests of the community have been met, their relentless determination and their nurturing of a representative leadership has helped them unite as community and make their voices heard.