Brazil's Bolsonaro could put farm ministry in charge of indigenous affairs

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s right-wing President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is considering placing indigenous affairs under the ministry of agriculture, his future chief of staff said on Monday, a move that could give ranchers an upper hand in land conflicts.

Bolsonaro’s top aide Onyx Lorenzoni told reporters the move has not been decided yet, but said Bolsonaro believes that native tribes should be able to integrate to improve their living standards.

The plan reflects Bolsonaro’s view that Brazil’s indigenous people should not be kept apart from society on reservations and their lands should be opened to commercial activities that are currently banned.

In Brazil, killings over land are common and seldom punished, as powerful landowners, who often wield influence over local police and government officials, clash with farmers and others for control of lucrative agricultural and logging land.

Fights over land resulted in the killings of 71 activists and indigenous people in 2017, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), a watchdog linked to the Catholic Church. It was the bloodiest year since 2003.

Six of those killed last year were members of indigenous tribes trying to protect their reserves, according to the CPT’s annual report on rural violence, most of which takes place in the Amazon rainforest region.

‘LIKE US’

Bolsonaro last week repeated his vow to stop creating new reservations and compared the indigenous peoples living on them to animals trapped in a zoo. He has said the tribes should be allowed to charge royalties for the extraction of minerals on their lands.

“The natives want doctors, dentists, television, internet. We will give them the means to be like us,” Bolsonaro, who takes office Jan. 1, said at a military academy graduation ceremony.

Some 517,000 natives, about two-thirds of Brazil’s indigenous population, live on reservations that represent 12.5 percent of the country’s territory.

Environmentalists say the indigenous on the reservations are the best guardians of Brazil’s tropical forests and their biodiversity. The issue has gained more importance as the destruction of Brazil’s Amazon hit a decade high, the government said last month.

That destruction is primarily caused by illegal logging, ranching and farming, officials say. Anthropologists and rights say allowing mining companies into reservations would also destroy native cultures.

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Commentary: For G20 leaders, greater problems yet to come

World leaders heading home after the weekend G20 might be justified in breathing brief sighs of relief. Unlike at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit two weeks ago, the heads of state were able to agree on a joint communiqué. A landmark meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping was claimed a success by both sides, avoiding further escalation of their trade war – at least for now.

Those broadly positive headlines, however, are only half the picture. For all the efforts to keep it on track, the meeting in Buenos Aires also served to showcase an alarming rise in the number of international differences. From French President Emmanuel Macron squaring up against Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Trump snubbing Russian President Vladimir Putin, a growing number of leaders appeared openly hostile or dismissive of each other. The primary diplomatic breakthrough of the summit – a joint declaration to reform the World Trade Organization – may simply be a precursor to more arguments. While most nations do want changes at the WTO, U.S.-China tensions make it unlikely they’ll agree on how to do so.

Pointedly, a forum designed as one of the world’s leading venues for international diplomacy struggled to get the word “multilateralism” into the communiqué for fear of offending leaders such as Trump. Much of the diplomatic effort, insiders said, revolved around avoiding growing taboos of major countries, particularly the United States and China. (The eventual communiqué managed a reference to the “multilateral trading system” but followed it by stressing the need for reform at the request of U.S. negotiators.)

Coming amid multiple overlapping international crises, this was in many respects the most important G20 since that in London in April 2009. Then, world leaders found common ground in agreeing on a joint approach following the global financial crash the previous year. This time, those present – particularly from the West’s largest democracies – were likely more preoccupied with political dramas at home. Even as he met other foreign leaders, Macron was being told of France’s most violent street protests in decades. British Prime Minister Theresa May is reaching the crunch point on getting her Brexit deal through Parliament, with speculation rife her government might collapse. Trump was spending time on angry tweets about the latest developments in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

A grinning, enthusiastic handshake between Putin and Saudi Arabia’s bin Salman appeared to tell a different story – this one about how the world’s increasingly repressive autocratic states are standing together. There’s clearly an element of truth in that. At the same time, however, the autocrats also find themselves under mounting pressure. Like many of his Western counterparts, Putin finds his domestic approval ratings falling in the face of Russia’s economic problems, and it’s unclear how his picking fights with countries like Ukraine can alter that dynamic. Riyadh, meanwhile, has suffered significant diplomatic fallout from the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Nor are the autocratic leaders a simple defined bloc – and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is clearly at ever greater loggerheads with Saudi Arabia, even as his administration moves closer to Putin’s Russia. It seems like there are ever more moving parts to international relations, and mutual antagonism continues to grow in many of those bilateral relationships.

For all Trump’s challenges with the Russia probe at home, the G20 was a broadly successful trip for the U.S. president. A communiqué reference to refugees and migration was removed at U.S. request, Trump signed a revised trade deal with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts, and Washington again avoided any commitments on climate change. While the group recommitted itself to a vaguely defined “rules-based system,” Chinese and other attempts to condemn “protectionism” – a thinly veiled reference to Trump’s tariffs – also failed to find a place.

Despite Trump’s personal intransigence on various issues, other major world leaders still seem keen to woo him. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe went particularly out of his way to flatter POTUS, congratulating him on his “historic victory” in the U.S. midterms despite the Republican loss of the House of Representatives. China’s Xi appeared conciliatory, while the Kremlin’s mild statement of “regret” about the cancellation of the Trump-Putin meeting demonstrated just how much Moscow wishes to keep dialogue with the U.S. open.

The Trump administration is now hoping for another diplomatic breakthrough early next year at another meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Even a temporary improvement in Washington-Beijing relations could help that process. Trump tweeted Monday he also hoped for a trilateral meeting with Xi and Putin in the near future to “start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable arms race.”

How long that spirit will last is an open question. The Xi-Trump meeting saw the U.S. agree to delay new tariffs scheduled for January 1 by 90 days, while China pledged to buy U.S. crops and other goods and crack down on Chinese-made opiates feeding the U.S. domestic drug crisis. However, there are already signs that tariffs and tensions could soon rise again. There were small but notable differences between the U.S. and Chinese post-meeting readouts, and much will depend on what happens in the coming weeks. One crude but simple bellwether will be whether maritime confrontations in the South China Sea rise or fall.

After a year that has seen almost every key international relationship deteriorate, the Argentina meeting could have gone much worse. But almost every leader there has returned to major domestic headwinds. When the next G20 meeting rolls around in Japan in June, successful multilateral diplomacy may yet be harder still.

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Gay-straight alliance law challenged at Alberta Court of Appeal

A legal challenge being mounted against Alberta’s controversial law around gay-straight alliances went before a three-judge panel in Calgary on Monday.

Two dozen faith-based schools argued that Bill 24, which deals with GSA clubs in schools, restricts the flow of information to parents. The group behind the legal challenge says parents are worried because their children’s participation in GSAs won’t be disclosed to them.

Related

Education Minister warns 28 private schools defying GSA laws risk public funding

Calgary Centre for Sexuality CEO weighs in on GSA court challenge

Bill 24 says that parents cannot be notified about their children’s participation in the clubs unless their child consents.

Jay Cameron is the lawyer for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. He said the law strips parents of knowledge about their own children.

“There is a flaw in the legislation and my clients are uncomfortable with the imposition of a requirement to comply with it when there’s a problem with it,” Cameron said. “It’s not lawful to require schools to restrict information from parents about small children full stop.

“That’s not the law in this country and the Crown is attempting to make it law in this country.”

But those who support LGBTQ students say members of GSAs are often vulnerable and their rights should be protected with respect to “coming out” on their own terms.

Pam Krause with the Calgary Sexual Health Centre said students shouldn’t be subjected to having someone else “out them.”

“We don’t want there to be secrecy [and] we don’t see any need that students shouldn’t be able to have self-determination,” Krause said. “They are clubs and one with a very important purpose.

“The No. 1 thing students want to work with us on, is how to come out to their families. Nobody is trying to hide anything from anyone, but sometimes it’s not safe.”

Those spearheading the appeal also strongly object to Education Minister David Eggen’s recently imposed compliance rules.

His ultimatum suggests funding and accreditation would be at risk if schools don’t adhere to the law.

“The minister’s order in November is clear: ‘If you don’t comply with policy requirements then you will be defunded from the 2019 school year,’” Cameron said.

A written decision by the judges is expected sometime early in the new year and will be made public once it is issued.

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China grain traders await lower tariffs before U.S. return

BEIJING (Reuters) – China will need to drop steep tariffs it imposed on a range of American farm products earlier this year before it can fulfill its pledge to buy substantial volumes of U.S. goods, said Chinese traders on Monday.

China and the United States agreed on Saturday to a ceasefire in a months-long trade war that has roiled global markets and halted sales of U.S. soybeans to the world’s top buyer.

The United States agreed to put on hold a scheduled increase in tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods due to come into effect on Jan. 1, following talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a gathering of world leaders in Argentina.

The White House said Beijing had promised to buy an unspecified but “very substantial” amount of agricultural, energy, industrial and other products, with purchases of farm goods to start “immediately.”

But no substantial purchases can happen with a 25 percent duty still in place on U.S. soybeans, corn, sorghum and wheat, said buyers and analysts.

“How can you buy U.S. products if China does not reduce the tariffs? We haven’t made any move yet,” said a trader with a major Chinese trading house. He declined to be identified as he was not allowed to be quoted by media.

China’s tariffs on U.S. soybeans mean they are $60 per tonne more expensive than those from top global supplier Brazil, which is due to begin harvesting a record crop in a few weeks time.

(Graphic: U.S. soybean export prices more than $60/tonne above Brazil’s due to 25 pct tariff – tmsnrt.rs/2RCfN7C)

Muted reaction in both the Chicago and Dalian futures markets on Monday underlined the lack of incentives for new purchases. [GRA/]

Chicago Board of Trade soybeans settled up about 1 percent while Dalian soymeal futures closed down less than 1.4 percent.

“The market isn’t impressed,” said Darin Friedrichs, Shanghai-based consultant at INTL FCStone.

REMOVING TARIFFS?

Some industry participants expected China to drop the tariffs soon after the Trump-Xi meeting.

“Tariffs on U.S. soybeans might drop as the two sides enter a honeymoon period. It is expected that they will start sending out goodwill signals,” said Tian Hao, senior analyst with First Futures.

China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that the two presidents had instructed their economic teams to work towards removing all tariffs.

“China has to do this, basically to get room to breathe,” said an executive at a state-owned trading house.

Until then, the only buyers likely to make purchases of pricey U.S. grain will be state-owned enterprises instructed by Beijing to buy soybeans for state reserves.

“If they have to buy something, then they can ask (state stockpiler) Sinograin to buy, the tariff is OK for reserves,” said another China-based trader with a global trading firm.

Time is running out for the United States to ship soy before Brazilian farmers start their harvest, U.S. analysts said.

“It takes time to get up and running again,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Iowa-based Soy Transportation Coalition.

Soybeans would need to be transported by rail from the interior Midwest to Pacific Northwest ports, where some export facilities may have already booked space for other grains, Steenhoek said. Shipment to China takes about three weeks.

“The window of doing bean business to China is getting really skinny, almost to the point where it is closed,” said Roy Huckabay, of Linn and Associates, a Chicago brokerage.

(Graphic: Soybeans are by far China’s top agriculture import from the United States – tmsnrt.rs/2Q6pFdn)

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Opinion | No News Is Bad News for Hungary

The world’s growing ranks of would-be autocrats should study Viktor Orban. Steadily, systematically, relentlessly, he has disabled any criticism or honest accounting of his imposition of right-wing, nativist, nationalist politics on all spheres of Hungarian life. His latest feat is breathtaking in its audacity.

Acting as if on a signal, more than a dozen owners handed over more than 400 news websites, newspapers, television channels and radio stations to a foundation formed and run by Orban loyalists. Most of the owners said they “donated” their outlets.

Obviously, it wasn’t philanthropy. The owners are pro-government oligarchs and allies of Mr. Orban. Some of them have been buying up independent media outlets in recent years and turning them into pro-government mouthpieces. It’s not hard to presume that the business owners were happy to do Mr. Orban and his party, Fidesz, a little favor, especially since their news outlets depended on government advertising and were making little money.

What Mr. Orban has managed to create is a media juggernaut that closely resembles Communist propaganda machines of old. The consolidation, if that’s the word, still needs to be approved by regulatory authorities, but they’re led by officials appointed by Mr. Orban. So is the Constitutional Court, should anybody consider challenging the transfers in the courts.

The nonprofit foundation that has suddenly become an enormously powerful government mouthpiece, the Central European Press and Media Foundation, was formed in August by staunch allies of Mr. Orban. In an email to The Times, a board member, Miklos Szantho, echoed a line from Fox News, claiming that the foundation would work to create a “balanced” media environment in Hungary by serving as a counterweight to “progressive” news outlets.

That’s a curious notion of balance, since more than 500 news outlets in Hungary today are pro-government, compared with 31 in 2015. Independent media organizations have been denied state advertising for years, often rendering them targets for acquisition by Mr. Orban’s friends. The most widely read opposition newspaper, Nepszabadsag, was shut down in 2016. Many of its staff members charged that the shutdown was the work of Mr. Orban.

Hungary is not alone in its assault on media freedoms — Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice Party is also trying to bring the media under its control. But Mr. Orban has been the trendsetter in his effort to build what he proudly describes as an “illiberal state.” His efforts have included active measures to spread his far-right ideology to the theater and other arts, to universities and other schools, and even to religion.

They have also included a crackdown on pro-democracy organizations and institutions like the Central European University, created to foster democracy by the Hungarian-American investor George Soros — a bête noire of Hungarian government propaganda — that is now being forced out to Austria, with a shrug from the Trump administration.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with academic freedom,” the American ambassador David Cornstein said last week of the showdown, advising Mr. Soros, “It would pay to work with the government.”

Mr. Orban’s behavior prompted the European Parliament last September to begin a process that in theory could ultimately strip Hungary of European Union voting rights for posing a “systematic threat” to the union’s core values. It will take a lot more than that to make Mr. Orban care.

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Okanagan-Similkameen School District drops elementary school letter grades

Report cards handed out to elementary school-aged children in the Okanagan-Similkameen School District next week will look very different.

School District 53 has opted to eliminate the traditional letter grade system in favour of a four-point proficiency scale.

It means students will be evaluated on subjects as either emerging, developing, proficient or extending.

The district is implementing the B.C. Ministry of Education’s draft K-9 student reporting policy.

Marcus Toneatto, the district’s director of learning and inquiry, said the idea is to move away from content and memorization and towards building critical analysis skills.

It’s also intended to complement the province’s new curriculum.

“It really does make sense but it’s a shift,” he said. “I think it will be actually more motivating for students.”

Parents will receive a minimum of five reports annually describing their child’s progress, but can also opt for a traditional report card.

“There are still those parents who would like to see letter grades because they value letter grades and we understand that and they can request letter grades,” Toneatoo said.

Jason McAllister, the principal at Oliver Elementary School, said educators and parents were consulted on the new evaluation system and the majority are in favour.

“What we think is we’re making students even more accountable and we’re responding to each student’s needs so when we’re talking about specific areas where they might be developing, we also explain how they can move to be proficient,” he said.

The Okanagan-Similkameen School District is not the only one in the Okanagan Valley using the proficiency scale to evaluate elementary school-aged student’s progress.

The North Okanagan School District said it piloted the project last year and it’s been expanded to all 13 schools this year.

The Central Okanagan School District said it is also testing out the proficiency scale and the majority of schools have at least a few classrooms participating.

Meanwhile, the Okanagan Skaha School District said it has not implemented the policy.

“Our staff are busy with other initiatives, so we will wait for the new policy to be finalized prior to shifting our practice,” said superintendent Wendy Hyer in an email.

The B.C. Ministry of Education said in an email to Global Okanagan that the draft policy is now being piloted in 13 school districts and two independent schools for the 2018/2019 school year.

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‘Awe-inspiring’ cave discovered in Canada

A massive unexplored cave of “national significance” has been discovered in the Canadian wilderness.

It was spotted in April by a government survey team counting the caribou population in the remote Wells Gray Provincial Park, in British Columbia.

A group of cave specialists and geologists took a closer look at the discovery in September.

They said the cave “promises a dramatic new chapter in the story of Canadian cave exploration”.

Government biologist Bevan Ernst, who was on the caribou survey team, unofficially dubbed the discovery “Sarlacc’s Pit” because it looked to him a bit like the lair of a Sarlacc, a fictional creature from the planet Tatooine featured in Star Wars.

“We were looking for caribou, not caves,” Mr Ernst told the BBC.

He said helicopter pilot Ken Lancour was the one who thought the deep, snow-filled pit they had spotted was worth bringing to the attention of provincial parks officials.

Mr Ernst said the hard-to-access cave is in a region that “is about as remote as we get” and is near where the park’s mountainous landscape transitions into “glacier-type country”.

He suggested it might not have been previously spotted because it would usually have been covered with snow or avalanche debris when the team did their annual census.

Geologist Catherine Hickson and cave specialist John Pollack led the 9 September reconnaissance visit for a preliminary exploration of the cave after reviewing photographs and satellite images of the feature.

The entrance of the cave is 100m (328ft) long by 60m (197ft) wide – about the size of small football pitch or a National Football League football field.

The team believes that the cave is at least 180m deep, but were prevented from formally measuring the depth due to mist from a “turbulent” river that flows into the cave entrance.

Researchers say the dimensions are unprecedented in Canadian caving history.

Ms Hickson told the BBC that standing next to the cave’s massive entrance was “awe-inspiring”.

“You can see snow at the bottom but you can also see this black void,” she said.

The reconnaissance team believes the length of the cave runs at least 2km (1.25 miles).

It is also the largest known cave of its type.

“Karsts” are parts of the landscape made up of limestone, with sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns.

“Sarlacc’s Pit” is a “striped karst”, marble interbedded with rock units containing less marble, which gives the rock a striped look.

Ms Hickson says the next step is organising a trip to explore the interior of the cave, which will be a highly technical endeavour due to the vertical drop into the pit and the water, snow and ice inside.

She called being part of the team to visit the site for the first time “very rewarding”.

“It shows you, you don’t know everything,” said Ms Hickson.

“There are things yet to be discovered.”

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Online auction of used government equipment recoups millions every year

Need a bin full of army boots? What about a John Deere tractor that was used by the RCMP Musical Ride?

If you can think of it, chances are the government is trying to get rid of it through their online auction.

GC Surplus is like eBay for old government equipment with all of the proceeds going back to the federal purse.

In 2017, the department sold $60 million worth of used equipment that was deemed no longer useful by the government. As the saying goes, however, one government’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Forty per cent of the items sold from the Department of National Defence. Barracks boxes, boots, tents, sleeping bags and rifle cases are all sold on the site to keep them out of landfills.

“The goal is to minimize the impact of the crown’s use of assets, and that’s [to] minimize the impact financially, so through disposable and goods sale,” said Nicholas Trudel, director-general of GC Surplus. “Minimize the impact environmentally, so if we can divert from landfill that’s always a great outcome.”

 

GC Surplus sold a 2010 Tesla S for $79,000 after the federal government bought one for emissions testing. The government buys straight from a dealership so that the car is truly randomly selected.

Old industrial kitchen set from a military base being sold by the government at http://www.gcsurplus.ca

Fleet vehicles make up another large chunk of the sales, with $26 million in cars and trucks being sold by auction last year. Of the 600 vehicles the government purchased for the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, 428 have already been sold.

The government buys so many vehicles because officials know they can be sold by the online auction site with a decent rate of return, and because you aren’t allowed to modify a rented or leased car.

“Often times for emissions testing or security operations use, things are mounted, measurement equipment or radios or sensors or sirens or all kinds of things can be mounted for operational use,” said Trudel. “When that’s done to a leased vehicle, generally the leasing company isn’t so happy about that and there’s a bill that comes at the end”.

The program operates without any base funding from the government and the funds they recoup are enough to pay for the salaries of 80 employees and upkeep of 10 warehouses across the country.

Every week a truckload of items shows up at the Ottawa warehouse. A trio of workers sorts the items deciding which can be sold alone, put into a lot or just discarded.

Miscellaneous items in the Ottawa warehouse of GC Surplus

The highest volume of items that go through the 10 GC Surplus warehouses across the country is office furniture. When government departments refurnish their spaces, the old stuff is sold, often at one lot instead of piece by piece.

“That’s unlikely to gain a high value, so sorting those assets from a room full of chairs or a floor of office furniture, it doesn’t make sense to sort and list individually, because it’s just not going to command the price that would make all that effort make sense,” Trudel told Global News.

That doesn’t bother self-proclaimed reseller Jerome Arsenault. He’s a regular on the site, saying he often looks for items like the lot of 15 hard carrying cases on wheels, which he thinks he can flip to a band or rental company.

He also picked up a pressure washer and a pack of six pairs of winter gloves. The grand total for the cases, washer and gloves? Only $1,000.

“It’s excellent,” Arsenault told Global News. “It’s maybe not for everyone, it takes time and you have to be able to store some of the things.”

Most Canadians likely wouldn’t be able to store the helicopter that was sold this summer for $1.6 million, nor would they have the proper licenses needed before you could even put a bid on it. Those are some of the checks that come with those bigger-ticket items — like the Coast Guard ship that was also sold through the auction service.

A bin of used military boots being sold by the government on http://www.gcsurplus.ca

“We’re very careful who we sell to in terms of assuring that they’re qualified that the vessel doesn’t become derelict or in an accident as they pull away from the harbour,” said Trudel.

GC Surplus has been around for years, but it’s come a long way from how it started: with a few card tables at the entrance of a warehouse door. People would have to put their bids in envelopes in the hopes of scoring an item from that location.

“We’ve come a long way to online auctions accessible nationally to thousands and thousands of people,” said Trudel

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Debenhams kick off one-day shoe sale plus get free delivery with this code

Popular department store Debenhams has slashed the price of women’s shoes online – but only for today.

The discounts mean many shoes and boots styles are now half price, perfect for anyone looking for some new winter footwear or part shoes for Christmas.

There are a range of brands included in the flash sale too, we’ve spotted styles from Dorothy Perkins, Steve Madden, Faith and Dune.

There’s also a mix of casual and dressy options too, with plenty of strappy heels to wow your colleagues at the Christmas party or for any glam New Year’s Eve celebrations you have planned.

But sizes are being snapped up fast so you’ll need to be swift to get what you want.

The added bonus is shoppers who buy online can get free click and collect delivery with this code – SH3J or SH6S. You can browse the full selection at debenhams.com but will need to order before midnight to score the savings.

Below we’ve rounded up some of the best party shoes you can pick up in the sale now.

Principles Black suedette ‘Cace’ ankle boots, £21 (was £42)

You can’t go wrong with a classic block heel boot for winter and this suedette pair are great to coordinate with this season’s biggest fashion trends for autumn/winter.

Faith silver glitter ‘Chloe Sparkle’ stiletto shoes, £19.50 (was £39.50)

Show off your fancy footwork in these sparkly high heels from Faith, they’re the perfect party shoe.

Principles Black ‘Condo’ riding boot, £27.50 (was £55)

A classic winter boot staple that will keep your feet warm, dry and stylish throughout the colder months.

Call It Spring suedette ‘Friedda’ stiletto pointed shoe, £24.50 (was £49)

Miss Selfridge ‘Ailise’ sequin stiletto boots, £22.50 (was £45)

Add a subtle hint of glamour to your everyday look with these black pointed heels.

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Taking on a mining giant and winning

A small South African community has won a decade-long fight to prevent the construction of a titanium mine on its ancestral land, writes the BBC’s Pumza Fihlani after visiting the area.

The lush fields and hillsides are dotted with huts. Clear rivers run into the sea along the breath-taking Indian Ocean coastline and just one road gives access to this rustic scene.

But Xolobeni, the idyllic home to South Africa’s Amadiba community, sits on top of huge reserves of titanium ore, a lightweight and strong valuable metal used in everything from computers to aeroplanes.

For more than 10 years the community have been waging a battle, which at times has proved deadly, to preserve their way of life against mining interests.

It is a battle that they have, for the time being, won after a court ruling last month went their way.

Murder and suspicion

The tensions over mining have made this part of the country uncharacteristically hostile to outsiders, and I was advised to have a local escort for my visit.

I travelled to Xolobeni, one of the villages that had been earmarked to make way for the mine, to speak to a woman on the frontline of this fight, Nohle Mbuthuma.

She is a difficult person to get hold of and finds it hard to trust people as she believes that some of her colleagues have been killed for their activism.

Ms Mbuthuma is the chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), which was formed in 2007 to coordinate fight against the proposed mine.

She stepped into the role when fellow activist and long-time friend Sikhosiphi Rhadebe, affectionately known “Bazooka”, was killed two years ago after being shot eight-times in his home by men posing as police officers.

Villagers believe he was killed because of his fierce opposition to the mining plans, but the police are still investigating the case and no arrests have been made.

At least 10 other people, who had opposed the mining plan, have died in the last few years under mysterious circumstances, including poisoning, according to local media.

There are suspicions that some locals who stand to benefit from mining are behind the violence but this has never been proved.

Ms Mbuthuma has had a few brushes with death herself and avoids staying in in one place for too long.

“I’m not afraid about my life. I’m not even protecting myself, I’m protecting the struggle… that’s why I’m even changing places,” she told me, defiance burning behind her tired eyes.

‘Destroying the environment’

Transworld Energy Mineral (TEM), a subsidiary of Australian mining company MRC, has been trying since 2007, to obtain a license to mine the region’s deposits from the government’s Department of Mineral Resources.

The project, if it went ahead, would affect swathes of farmland on a coastal strip of about 22km (13.7 miles), and 600 people would have to move, according to an estimate by the community’s lawyers.

They have said an acceptable relocation plan has not been proposed.

The ACC, supported by the local tribal council, argued in court that mining would bring disastrous consequences to the region, including destroying the environment and creating a community that could not look after itself.

The Amadiba community was one of more than 100 applicants in a court case against South Africa’s mining authority, saying that they must give their consent before a mining license is granted.

Last month, in a room filled with lawyers and a handful of villagers who had travelled overnight in a minibus to learn their fate, the High Court in the capital, Pretoria, heard the community’s pleas and agreed with them.

‘South Africa’s wealth built on mining’

In her ruling, Judge Annali Basson said their fears about the consequences of mining were well founded.

Her judgement highlighted how communities in mining areas often suffered from airborne diseases, lost their grazing land and were often forced to move. The environment was also damaged, she noted.

TEM, which wants the license, has made no comment, but the government still supports the mining project and Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe insists it would be good for development and could help boost the country’s struggling economy.

South Africa’s wealth was built on mining and Mr Mantashe said the judgment could pose a threat to the industry as a whole as he thinks it could set a precedent.

“We either look into sustaining and preserving mining, or take a clear decision to ban mining in this country and allow those minerals to lie on the ground,” Mr Mantashe said after the judgement.

He added that his department will study the ruling and will appeal against “aspects” of it.

But for now the High Court ruling spells a victory for the people of Xolobeni.

To answer the call for economic development, the Amadiba community want the authorities to focus on building up eco-tourism and conservation. In other words something that would not, in their view, damage their land.

In her ruling, Justice Basson cited a case in South Africa’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, which described the link between the land and African communities and called it “their most treasured possession”.

This goes some way to explaining why the Amadiba would not back down, even when some people were being killed.

‘Fight for the future’

On the eve of the court judgement, 200 people gathered in a packed hall to discuss the next step in their fight to keep the miners off their land.

Ms Mbuthuma was present. She is a small but fiery woman who commands the respect of her people.

This was one of the few times they had seen her since she went into hiding some months ago.

Many had walked for miles to be there. Ms Mbuthuma, flanked by traditional rulers and elderly men, addressed the room and her booming voice was met by applause and cheering.

“This is a fight for the future of our children. We cannot sell out their legacy at the promise of making easy money. If we lose our land we lose the only thing our forefathers left us with,” she told the crowd.

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Outside the hall, I spoke to a few villagers to find out why they would turn down development and material wealth and choose village life.

“Some people think rural life means you are poor. We are not poor,” Nokwakha Mboyisa said.

“We are dependent on ourselves here, we don’t want to become a basket case and depend on the government to take care of us. As long as we have our land we can look after ourselves,” she added.

Busisiwe Mbangi agreed. “This is the life we want,” she told me. “They must leave us alone to live the life our forefathers lived. We are happy this way.”

The community is not concerned with the riches that lay beneath the earth as for them the value of their land cannot be quantified.

Their struggle is about identity and a sense of belonging. Things they say money cannot buy.

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