New blow for would-be Mpumalanga coal miner
29 January 2019 | By John Yeld
Surprise move by MEC for Environmental Affairs Vusi Shongwe
A new blow has been dealt to attempts to open a coal mine in protected Mpumalanga grasslands. Photo: supplied
A surprise, flip-flop decision by Mpumalanga MEC for Environmental Affairs Vusi Shongwe has delivered another blow to an Indian mining company trying to establish a huge new coal mine in a critical water catchment area.
Shongwe’s decision has reignited a vicious Twitter exchange about the proposed mine.
Atha-Africa Ventures, a local subsidiary of India-based transnational mining and minerals company Atha Group, is attempting to develop the Yzermyn coal mine, an underground mine with a projected 15-year-lifespan that lies within the Mabola Protected Environment (MPE).
The MPE was proclaimed in January 2014 to help protect a strategic water catchment and crucial biodiversity area of the highly threatened Mpumalanga grasslands and wetlands.
In November last year, during a legal challenge to the mine, Shongwe suddenly published a Notice of Intention in the Provincial Gazette to exclude three of the properties that make up the proposed coal mine from the protected environment – a move that would have effectively paved the way for mining.
In an affidavit, Shongwe explained that he had been approached during March 2018 by members of the local community with a request to exclude the protected properties.
But in mid-December – and equally unexpectedly – Shongwe signed a new notice to withdraw his original Notice of Intention, with no reasons being given for his change of heart. That decision was published in the Provincial Gazette on 25 January.
The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) had filed a 22-page objection to the proposed excision of the coal mining properties from the MPE, pointing out that Shongwe’s plan was to facilitate the development of the proposed Yzermyn coal mine.
The CER said that, as part of his initial rationale for wanting to excise the properties from the protected area, Shongwe had included a memorandum dated 6 March 2018 from a Volksrust-based civic organisation, the Voice Community Representative Council, that purported to represent the majority of people living in the Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Municipality.
The memorandum, that had raised “serious concerns” about declaring the Mabola Protected Environment, had been accompanied by a petition signed by some 8,500 community members, Shongwe said.
However, the CER pointed out in its objection that the petition was dated 30 August 2013, and had been submitted to then environment MEC “Pinky” Phosa when she was considering declaring the Mabola Protected Environment. “The Petition is of little, if any, relevance to the Exclusion Notice presently before the Honourable MEC [Shongwe],” the CER argued.
Responding to an invitation by GroundUp to comment, Atha-Africa said it had not made any representations on Shongwe’s original Notice of Intention and did not have any comment on the matter.
“Atha is aware that the community of Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme opposed the declaration of the Mabola Protected Environment in 2014 and a petition was signed by over 9,000 community members against the declaration. Only the local community can comment if this latest decision to withdraw the notice of intention to exclude properties from Mabola Protected Environment has the community’s buy-in or not,” the company said.
However, that careful response was in sharp contrast to what transpired on Twitter.
Environmental journalist Elise Tempelhoff posed a question to Atha-Africa senior vice-president Praveer Tripathi on Twitter, asking whether Shongwe’s latest decision meant that Atha-Africa had now “given up” on Mabola.
The head of the Voice Community Representative Council, Thabiso Nene, who tweets as @madlokovu15, jumped in with a reply, labelling Tempelhoff’s question “disgusting”.
In a second tweet to Tempelhoff, Nene said:
“Fun hw u have been absent when community was rejecting CER [Centre for Environmental Rights]. Bt not surprise yo kind tell the story of the elite. Watch the next move of the community. We will not rest till we have our democratic way. Even if Atha give up, community will not quite [quit].”
Both Nene’s tweets also tagged Tripathi, who has waged a bitter Twitter war against opponents of Atha-Africa’s proposed coal mine but who insists that his tweets reflect his personal views and not his company’s.
Tripathi tweeted several times, tagging both Tempelhoff and Nene. One of his Tweets reads:
“If the community gives up it would mean that a handful of foreign funded anti-development anti-people CSO’s [Civil Society Organisations] with media in their support can stop any development and employment with their slick lies. Their tactics are abominable but what’s more sick is that media can’t see it.”
In other tweets, he makes new derogatory and defamatory remarks about the CER, which is representing the eight members of a Coalition opposing development of the proposed coal mine. This was despite Tripathi telling the Minerals Council of South Africa (formerly the Chamber of Mines) – in response to a formal complaint to the council by the CER – last year that he would be “more sensitive” in his social media comments about those opposing his company’s attempt to mine coal at Yzermyn.
This Economic Impact Assessment Report is one of the additional specialist studies requested by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) in 2018 for the Basic Assessment Report (BAR) process being conducted for the Tja Naledi Barrage Sand Mine, located along the banks of the Vaal River, on the northern boundary of the Ngwanthe Local Municipality in the Fezile Dabi Magisterial district, Free State Province.
While it has not been possible to undertake a strategic economic assessment of suitable land use developments for this area (as requested by the local Federation for Sustainable Environment (FSE) during the assessment process), this Economic Impact Assessment has gone beyond the normal scope of assessing the positive economic impacts of the proposed mining amendment, and considered the negative economic impacts.
The Report concluded:
“Our recommendation is that DMR carefully consider how they will ensure the effective management of the cumulative impacts of sand mining in this and other areas along the Vaal River. To do this, it will be necessary to develop a regional perspective on the existing sand and gravel mines as well as the applications for mining rights, and develop a regulatory strategy that can manage the number of mines in each locality and the economic impacts on other economic activities.
With respect to the current applications by Tja Naledi and Pure Source, the economic impacts of these mines on existing economic activities and the marginal economic situation for these mines, suggests that it would not be appropriate to approve these mining applications at this stage. Alternatively, they could be approved subject to the mitigation measures recommended and included in their EMPs, if and when the mine’s business financials are proven to be viable (given the broader market context) and can cover the cost of the mitigation measures that are needed to minimise the visual, noise, dust and traffic impacts. This may encourage the mining companies to look for sand mining opportunities in areas where the visual, noise, dust and traffic impacts are minor.”
The above recommendations by the independent consultants (Eviro Works) are seen by the FSE, Vaal Eden Committee as significantly supportive of its arguments that sand mining is not the best practicable environmental option for the area.
The Report is attached for download.
De Beers withdraws Groot Marico application
SATURDAY STAR / 8 JANUARY 2019, 12:07PM / SHEREE BEGA
One of the three eyes that supplies water to the Groot Marico River. PABALLO THEKISO
Mining giant De Beers has withdrawn its application to prospect for potential diamond-bearing rock in the highly sensitive catchment of the Groot Marico River.
This comes after a judicial review application was launched by a community organisation, Mmutlwa wa Noko, which works to maintain the integrity of the pristine river and its catchment, last year.
Mmutlwa wa Noko launched the application after the now-deceased Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, dismissed over 140 appeals in 2016, against the environmental authorisation granted to the mining firm.
“The Groot Marico, which is fed by dolomite eyes, is one of the last remaining surface-flowing fresh water resources in the North West,” said Mmutlwa wa Noko. “The waters of the upper Groot Marico River, across which the prospecting rights application falls, is so pure that it is safe to drink directly from the river. It is one of the few remaining free-flowing stretches of river in South Africa.”
Last July, the Groot Marico Biosphere Reserve was declared by Unesco, becoming the first biosphere in North West, safeguarding its dolomitic aquifer system.
In November 2015, De Beers had applied for environmental authorisation to prospect for kimberlite in the areas of Swartruggens, Mabaalstad/Koster and Groot Marico within the Groot Marico River catchment.
“The application area lies immediately upstream of the town of Groot Marico and the adjoining township of Reboile, both of which are dependent on the Groot Marico River for water,” said Mmutlwa wa Noko.
Prospecting was granted to De Beers in February 2016, and over 140 appeals were submitted.
In December 2017, the appeals directorate of the Department of Environmental Affairs informed interested and affected parties that Molewa had dismissed the appeals.
“On June 6, 2018, Mmutlwa wa Noko launched judicial review proceedings in the North Gauteng High Court against the minister, the regional manager of minerals regulation and De Beers. De Beers did not oppose. The minister and regional manager both opposed.
“On October 23, our attorney was informed by the State Attorney that De Beers was excluding from their application the areas of Modderfontein, Vergenoeg and Wonderfontein, and also that the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) was unconditionally withdrawing its opposition in this matter. On October 25, 2018, the State Attorney filed a notice of withdrawal for DMR.
“At this stage, no notice of withdrawal has been submitted for the minister, but the minister's office has not submitted an answering affidavit within the time allowed by the High Court rules.
“Accordingly, the matter has been set down on the unopposed motion roll for a judge to officially set aside the granting of the environmental authorisation on the first available court date, which is May 6.
“This means that there will be no prospecting or mining by De Beers in the application areas within the Groot Marico River catchment. The judicial review application had the desired effect,” it said.
The Groot Marico River catchment is a key strategic water resource for the North West and has been declared a national freshwater ecosystem priority area by the SA National Biodiversity Institute.
The river is of international significance as it provides Gaborone with water and ultimately becomes the Limpopo River, which flows through South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) also appealed the authorisation of the De Beer's application.
“The reasons for our appeal were an alleged flawed public participation process and the fact that this matter resolves around the issue of prospecting in an area of highest biodiversity importance and a National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area,” explained Mariette Liefferink, the chief executive of the FSE.
High Court refuses mining company’s leave to appeal
A strategic water source area already protected by law is protected by the courts.
Sasha Planting / 23 January 2019 00:41
Mining companies have left a heavy imprint on Mpumalanga, a biodiverse region vital to SA's water supply. Civil society is fighting back. Image: Supplied
Yesterday the North Gauteng High Court refused mining company Atha Africa leave to appeal the court’s decision to set aside permissions for a new coal mine inside a declared protected environment.
This is a victory for the eight civil society organisations represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), which have opposed the mining venture since 2015. At the time, then minister of mineral resources Mosebenzi Zwane and the late minister of environmental affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, granted Atha-Africa Ventures – an Indian-owned mining company – the right to mine coal in an area in Mpumalanga that was declared a Protected Environment in January 2014.
Known as the Mabola Protected Environment, it was declared such by the Mpumalanga provincial government as part of more than 70 000 hectares of protected area in the Mpumalanga grasslands. This followed years of research and planning by a number of government agencies, including the department of environmental affairs, the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Mpumalanga Tourism & Parks Agency.
In 2016, without public consultation and without notice, the two ministers gave their permission for a large 15-year coal mine to be built inside the Mabola Protected Environment.
This was move was greeted with dismay by South Africa’s green lobby.
The Mabola Protected Environment is situated outside Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga and falls within what has been classified as one of 22 Strategic Water Source Areas by the South African National Biodiversity Institute, a government body, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Strategic Water Source Areas constitute just 8% of SA’s land but provide more than 50% of our freshwater.
“The organisations opposing this particular mine do so because the proposed mine would be inside a declared protected area and a strategic water source area: with acid mine drainage estimated to require water treatment until 2097, the mine would threaten water security not only in the local area but in the region,” says CER attorney Catherine Horsfield. “The damage that this mine would do to water resources cannot be undone. The organisations that have brought this action are deeply committed to job creation and improving the quality of life of local people, but we also know that instead of bringing wealth and livelihoods, coal mining has devastated the lives, health and well-being of communities across the Highveld.”
In November 2018 the Pretoria High Court set aside the ministers’ approval and referred the decision back to them for reconsideration.
Relying on the decisions of others
The court set aside the decision on the basis that the decision-making process was not transparent, was procedurally unfair (there was no public participation process) and the ministers failed to independently and distinctively apply their minds to the decision, instead relying on the decisions of other decision-makers in relation to other approvals.
In light of the lack of transparency and public participation, the court handed down a punitive costs order against the ministers and the MEC.
Yesterday, the court heard Atha Africa’s application for leave to appeal the November decision to a full bench of the high court. The court refused Atha’s application and awarded costs against it.
The ministers of mineral resources and environmental affairs, as well as the Mpumalanga MEC, had also applied for leave to appeal the court’s decision but withdrew their application yesterday. The court ordered that the state pay the coalition’s wasted legal costs in preparing to oppose that application.
The coalition that brought the court application to set aside permissions for the proposed coal mine comprises the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of SA, groundWork, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, BirdLife SA, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, the Association for Water and Rural Development, and the Bench Marks Foundation.
Directive issued by the Department of Mineral Resources to Protea Mine, Magaliesburg pursuant the FSE’s complaints regarding the Mine’s alleged non-compliances.
Document attached for download.
THE FSE’s COMMENTS ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT AND ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT PLAN REPORT BLYVOOR GOLD MINING PROJECT
Find the document attached for download.
Article by Mark Olalde & Andisiwe Matikinca can be read by clicking the headline below.
FSE's monthly report for November 2018 is attached for download.
FSE’s COMMENTS ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT REPORT FOR THE PROPOSED BLYVOOR GOLD MINE PROJECT NEAR CARLETONVILLE, WEST RAND, GAUTENG – please see attached.